VALORANT's meta: Who gets played in the ESPN Esports Invitational?

Riot Games

The ESPN Esports VALORANT Invitational kicks off on Monday, pitting professional esports players from other games against each other to determine which esport best prepares its players with the skill to take on VALORANT. (Hint: It's CounterStrike, regardless of which team actually wins.)

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Beyond which team of former and/or current pros of other esports will earn bragging rights over all others, this tournament will be another look into the developing metagame of VALORANT esports. Here is a way-too-early look at the VALORANT meta, and what we might be able to expect from pros in upcoming invitationals and third-party tournaments.

The basics

Thus far, VALORANT has not been heavily reliant on ultimate usage and stacking like Overwatch or (despite being a MOBA and not an FPS game) Riot's signature game, League of Legends, where teamfights require specific ultimate timing, placement and coordination. Perhaps this will change in the future as players continue to learn the game, but the core nature of VALORANT is focused on comparatively slower gunplay, especially since, like CounterStrike: Global Offensive, there are no respawns. VALORANT is team-focused and you need strong communication and coordination, but call-outs are rotation- and location-based more than the timing of ultimates.

Basic team compositions at high-level play on streams and recent tournaments have generally followed this basic setup: at least one vision-based agent in Cypher or Sova (occasionally both), Sage, Brimstone, Breach/Phoenix, Raze. Most commonly, this ends up in something like Cypher/Brimstone/Breach/Sage/Raze. This gives a team vision, healing, several other supportive abilities to break onto a site like flashbangs and smoke bombs, and dueling power. Other considerations include gun economy and meta. This overview will be agent-focused, but gun economy is also an important part of VALORANT meta, especially during specific rounds.

How do you solve a problem like Raze?

It's no secret that Raze is overtuned. Her kit is such that she can effectively spam her grenades (Paint Shells) at lower levels of pub play while stronger players will take advantage of combining Blast Pack with her ultimate and other abilities.

Short of a gentlemen's agreement -- which has interesting implications for future tournaments, especially when VALORANT doesn't have agent bans -- to not play Raze, we should expect to see a lot of Raze at this event. Will she decide matches single-handedly? No. But is she powerful enough that most teams will pick her over other options in most situations? Yes.

Sage isn't overpowered, but she is a necessity

Sage is the agent that most people interested in overall game balance have their eye on, because her utility comes more from design than tweaking numbers. As the game's only healer -- outside of Phoenix, who can heal himself -- Sage is a necessity. Her utility comes not only in her healing but her Slow Orb, Barrier Orb and her ultimate, which resurrects a dead teammate. That being said, Sage doesn't feel overpowered in the same way that Raze does, perhaps because she's generally less annoying and not spamming grenades at you constantly. She just feels like the cornerstone of every team composition (which is arguably overpowered, but in a different way). It will be much more shocking to see a Sage-less team in upcoming tournaments than the absence of any other agent.

The rise of Breach and Brimstone

Brimstone and Breach together are an amazing combination of flashbangs (Breach's Flashpoint) and smoke bombs (Brimstone's Sky Smoke) that disable opponents and get teams on sites. While other agents have smoke bombs and flashbangs, Brimstone and Breach also both have terrain-controlling area-of-effect ultimates that (especially in the case of Brimstone) allow players to control spike plants from a distance. Brimstone is a bit more popular than Breach, and the two of them make a formidable combination.

Vision from Cypher or Sova (or both)

Vision is a crucial part of success in VALORANT and most team compositions will have either a Cypher or a Sova (or occasionally both). Cypher appears to be a bit more popular currently due to his Spycam and Trapwire, but Sova could see play with players learning how to hit long-range Recon Bolt shots.

The most important thing to remember going into this week, regarding agent selection, is that everything comes down to whether you can communicate with your team and win your gunfights.

Hero expected to see the most play: Sage
Hero expected to see the least play: Viper