What VALORANT's developers learned from the closed beta
Goodbye, beta. Hello, official launch.
Riot Games announced Thursday that VALORANT will be released for free on June 2, 2020, across the globe in most major regions, including North America, South Korea and Europe. After less than two months in its closed beta phase, the five-on-five character-based, tactical shooter is rolling out for real in less than two weeks, with servers opening up in Oceania, Japan and other places around the world that weren't included in the closed beta. All accounts from the beta will be wiped clean, ranks reset, and all players refunded any Valorant Points spent during the beta, plus 20%.
But why so early? Although the game has seen a meteoric debut in terms of streaming numbers and in-game players for the beta, there are still bugs to be fixed, especially with a vocal group of players seeing performance drops in terms of frames per second while they play the game. However, lead VALORANT developers Anna Donlon and Joe Ziegler have decided not to let those roadblocks get in the way of bringing their game to an audience clamoring for it.
"We're continuously making improvements," Ziegler said to ESPN. "Our next patch is going to have improvements for some of those issues, as well. And the patch following that will have even more improvements for that problem. I think the question more for us is if we will feel the larger player pool is ready to be held back for that? For us, we want to provide the start of service where we can begin to continuously patch through and let players in while testing the game more for all those people who were excluded from the closed beta phase."
The biggest surprise for the developers when the game debuted in North America and Europe and went into its closed beta period on April 7 was the turnout from players. On the first day alone, the game broke records on Twitch, with a combined 34 million hours watched of the game. Player numbers continued to grow once Brazil, Latin America and South Korea gained access to the game, vastly outpacing anything the developers believed was possible.
"We have almost 3 million playing daily right now," Donlon said.
While all countries in the closed beta have impressed the developers and have surpassed their initial expectations, the one region that stuck out for Donlon was Brazil. When it comes to the esports scene, VALORANT seemed like a match made in heaven for a country with a rich first-person shooting game history and a reverence for Riot's flagship title, League of Legends. So far, it has been that and more, with Brazil embracing the game and organizations in the country already carving out esports lineups for the upcoming competitive scene.
"I think we're really, really excited to see what's happening in Brazil right now," Donlon said. "I don't want to say surprised, I think Brazil was a [region] we really wanted. In Brazil, we just felt the FPS community is so strong and we were really excited to see if they would like our game and stay engaged. What we're seeing in Brazil is really great. I'm delighted with what we're seeing in Brazil."
Once the game goes down on May 28 for final tune-ups and changes before the official release, don't expect to see the same VALORANT when it comes back on June 2. The VALORANT developers want a consistent pipeline of content to continually engage and excite fans, and that all begins with day one of the game. When players head back to the world of operatives or download it for the first time on June 2, they will be met with a new agent that could only be described as "spicy," a new map and even a more time-conservative secondary game mode.
"We're going to launch with a second [game] mode, but we're putting a 'beta' tag on that mode," Donlon said. "That's because we haven't spent any time with the community at all playing it. So we want it to feel a little more like, 'What about this mode?' instead of a hard commit that this is the second game mode in VALORANT. We want players to play it with us and give us feedback. It's not [team deathmatch], I just want to clarify that."
Although Donlon and Ziegler didn't rule out a deathmatch mode coming in the future, with the beta game mode coming for launch the developers wanted to try something out that could let players breathe or relax after a marathon overtime ranked game. Besides the mode they're trying out, the VALORANT development team wants to continue adding and testing game modes with the players similar to League of Legends, seeing which stick with the community and which modes don't make sense to keep as an entrenched part of the game.
In terms of the new map on release day, while the developers wouldn't talk much about what would set it apart from its three predecessors, they did confirm it's actually the oldest of all the maps that have been developed for the game. The map, still unnamed, is shown in the video trailer announcing the official release date in the tease of the upcoming VALORANT cinematic showcasing titular agents Phoenix and Jett.
The agent cast, map pool and game modes aren't the only thing changing, though. When the game comes back online for launch day, the cosmetic store will be chock-full of never-before-seen ways to personalize agents. All purchases that were made in the beta will be refunded in a player's account, along with a 20% boost of Radiant points to spend on cosmetics.
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"This is a subjective opinion and maybe a biased opinion, but I think the stuff we're going to launch with from the cosmetic side in the first few weeks of the launch is significantly cooler than we've seen already," Ziegler said. "But you will see some of those [beta] skins come back."
In the midst of a pandemic and less than two months from its closed beta start, the official release date might feel ambitious. June 2, however, has always been the development team's plan since the game was officially announced. The VALORANT team, boasting over 100 developers, is ready to let the entire world test their game and show flexibility when facing obstacles such as frame drops, error codes and server malfunctions.
VALORANT's tagline is "Defy the limits." The development team will be trying to do just that when the game releases free-to-play to the world in less than two weeks.