How It's Made - VALORANT's industrial, electronic beats set the right tone

Lick, who produced the theme for VALORANT, said Sonny "Skrillex" John Moore is his biggest inspiration. Nicole Davis

As you open Riot Games' newest first-person shooter VALORANT, the first thing your ears hear is the thumping sound of the game's main theme. In comparison to Riot's flagship title, League of Legends, which is set in the high fantasy world of Runeterra and accompanied by an orchestral score, VALORANT's theme sets a tone that it won't be anything like its older sibling.

Whereas League of Legends is classical violins and epic adventure, VALORANT is a neon-lit nightclub with mystery (and possibly danger) lurking around every corner.

That atmosphere has been crafted by music producer Lick, an emerging artist who began making music in high school with hip hop-flavored beats before buying a synthesizer and finally finding his calling by imagining bass-pulsing music.

"I think the biggest and most inspirational person I look up to is Sonny "Skrillex" John Moore," Lick told ESPN. "He's just always pushing boundaries and is so good at interacting with his fans."

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When it came to gaming, Lick grew up on role-playing games that had twists and turns weaved into their narratives, but he also was a fan of competitive shooters, a self-proclaimed "pubstomper" in Call of Duty. For the upcoming producer, though, it would be a League of Legends tournament in the middle of 2019 that would bring him into the world of VALORANT.

For the two biggest League of Legends events of the year, the Mid-Season Invitational and the world championship, Riot brings in musical talent to create personalized theme songs. MSI's main theme, "Bring Home the Glory," featured Sara Skinner, who had previously worked with Lick on a track of his own called "Disappear." Following the success of Skinner's theme, Riot reached out to Skinner to see if she would be interested in working with Lick for an upcoming game of theirs.

One that, if everything went well, could be one of the biggest video games in the world.

"Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to work on a video game, so this entire experience has been a dream come true," Lick said. "Working on a video game has always been one of my biggest goals, and to achieve that is something I'll cherish forever."

After working and finishing the theme to the upcoming VALORANT release, Lick was given a chance to meet with the Riot staff and the game's developers at their Los Angeles campus before the coronavirus pandemic locked down the city. What he remembers most from the meeting at Riot headquarters were the stunned looks of everyone in the room when he played them their game's titular theme for the first time. The developers also couldn't believe their eyes when the producer showcased his prowess in the game itself, securing a quadra kill for himself after they joked he wouldn't be able to pull it off.

Since the game's closed beta release into the wild, it has been a whirlwind for the young producer, with some of his biggest musical idols such as Dillon Francis and Anton "Zedd" Zaslavski reaching out to him to congratulate him on his accomplishment. Gamers know the importance of music in a video game. Lick prides himself on knowing how a music track can be the difference in setting the correct or wrong tone for a game, and he feels like he truly captured the heart and soul of VALORANT's slick and steely style with what he sums up as "industrial" fused with electronic beats.

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"We feel that music is an important part of who players are, and we want to show players how awesome they are, regardless of what nation or city they live in," Joe Ziegler, VALORANT's game director at Riot Games, told ESPN about his game's music. "If you were to call our soundtrack one thing, I think it would be what we'd want you to call our overall aesthetic, which is 'unapologetically global.'"

The world of VALORANT is built as a sandbox for the user. Unlike other first-person shooter games where things feel streamlined with hard and fast guidelines, Riot wants there to be a mystery element attached to their first-person shooter. They want players to not only learn the classic FPS foundation but propel themselves upward, using each specialized agent's kit of tricks and abilities to think outside the box and break the sandbox given to them.

On its first day in closed beta, the game broke numerous streaming records on Twitch, drawing a concurrent 1.7 million viewers watching VALORANT streams, many watching in hopes of getting access to the game. It also broke a single-day hours watched record in a single game category on Twitch with 34 million hours watched. VALORANT was the talk of the internet the day of its release on April 7, and so too was Lick's theme for the game, as it quickly became synonymous with the game itself, with players and viewers alike bobbing their heads to his track.

Lick knows that although his theme is going to be stuck in millions of people's heads come the official launch of VALORANT this summer, there will be more music needed to accompany the game in the future. Just as Riot needed Sara Skinner's theme music for a League of Legends tournament, Lick knows that the future of VALORANT will also include major international tournaments once the game's esports scene gets underway.

Imagine Dragons, Zedd and others have picked up the mantle to create an official theme for a League of Legends tournament in previous years, and Lick hopes he can help produce the first VALORANT world championship track in the not too distant future.

"In a heartbeat, I'd pick Travis Scott or Kendrick [Lamar]," Lick said. "I'm very attached to the crossover between modern hip hop and character developments in the game. I think we could create something unique and special."