All esports contain a meta that revolves around the most effective strategies or playable characters in a given moment, shifting as competitors improve both their skills and understanding of a game. These metas often create memorable moments in a game’s history, like Overwatch’s GOATs meta or the prevalence of Ardent Censer in League of Legends. VALORANT is no different, and with the 2022 season beginning, there’s time to look back at the 2021 VALORANT Champions Tour to see what meta trends emerged.
For purposes of inclusivity, the data (all provided by rib.gg) used to determine trends will only come from VCT 2021 tournaments. Many tournaments (like VALORANT Conquerors Championship or Strike Arabia) fed into VCT, and others are affiliated with VCT (like VCT Game Changers). In addition, all the events will be sorted by similar patches, as many tournaments actually happened on different patches (like Latin America North Stage 3 Challengers 1 was hosted on Patch 2.11, while everyone else started on Patch 3.0). Other patches just included bug fixes, so no major game changes happened. For a complete list of events included and how the patches were grouped, see this google doc.
The Beginning: VCT Start, Reyna changes and the end of Stage 1
Patches included in this period: 2.0-2.04
Note: Astra was not played until after Stage 1’s completion, although Riot Games released her on Patch 2.04
In the beginning, there was a limited amount of agents, less utility to stop a rush and less utility to stop aim duels. So, to no one’s surprise, many teams ran Double Duelist as the premier option. Double Duelist comps made up 60.9% of all comps played from Patch 2.0 to Patch 2.04. While many combinations popped up, the most common Double Duelist comp consisted of Jett and Raze, making up a grand 42.9% of the total. Their closest competitor was Jett-Reyna, with 22.8% of the overall meta share.
When teams didn’t run Double Duelist, Double Sentinel (22.9% of all comps) and Double Initiator replaced them (20.6% of all comps). Killjoy-Sage was the main duo of choice for Sentinels while Breach and Sova served the role for Initiators.
Controller was the only role that saw little to no duo comps. Since this was before Astra, teams didn’t really see a need to combine smokes and focused more on the frag power of Duelists. Omen was the most common Controller in this period, and he appeared in 76% of all games during this period. This should come as no surprise, as Omen served as the primary smoker for so long in the game. With Icebox being relatively new, and Brimstone being run on one or two maps, Omen sat as the king of Controllers.
In terms of other agents, Jett was the most common Duelist (73.5% of all games), Sova was the most common Initiator (76.9%) and the most common Sentinel was Cypher (48.9%). The latter may come as a surprise, but Killjoy did not surpass Cypher until after Astra’s release and the start of VCT Stage 2.
A Shift in focus: Astra playable, Viper Toxin and Breeze’s release
Patches included in this period: 2.05-2.11
This is, for many, the point where VALORANT saw a shift in the focus of comps: going from dueling and fragging to more utility. Astra may pop into many minds as a cause of this, but she actually did not see much play during her early patches: only 18.3% in Patch 2.05 and 29.392% from Patch 2.06 to Patch 2.08. It wasn’t until Patch 2.09 (Masters 2 Reykjavik) and onward that she reached a 49.5% pick rate. For Gen.G Esports’ Anthony “gMd” Guimond, the switch away from Omen was an easy decision.
“Omen literally has two smokes and one flash whereas Astra has so much more utility, and I think people are going for utility now,” gMd said. “Also, it takes 40 seconds to regen an Omen smoke… and Omen’s teleport sucks.”
Viper also struggled when the Viper Toxin first came out, with a 16.2% pick rate on that patch. However, with the release of Breeze and teams settling in with the change, she reached 41.1% near the end of Stage 2. In addition, these agents were primarily played as Solo Controllers. The highest rate for Double Controller comps surfaced near the end of Stage 2, popping up 22.2% of the time. While nightmares of Astra or Brimstone-Viper may run around in the community’s memories, this comp really only appeared on one or two maps: Ascent and Bind.
On the other maps, these agents played solo, with Double Duelist being the most common comp. The other major change was a shift in power in the Sentinels class: both Killjoy and Sage completely stomped Cypher in pick rate, with Cypher falling as low as 16.6%.
The rest was the same, with Sova being the most picked Initiator, Jett being the most picked Duelist and Jett-Raze or Jett-Reyna as the most common Double-Duelist combo.
A new horizon: Patch 3.0 release, KAY/O and VCT Stage 3
Patches included in this period: 3.0-3.06
While many of these utility-laden agents saw a hit near the start of the patch, their pick rates actually recovered and shot back up. For example, Astra went from 49.5% at the end of VCT Stage 2, dropped to 33.8% in patch 3.0, but went back to 45.4% by Patch 3.06. Another is Killjoy who went from 50.4% at the end of Stage 2, to 41.3% in Patch 3.0 all the way back to 50.2% in Patch 3.06.
In fact, the majority of things stayed the same: Double Duelist was still the most common, Jett was still the most picked Duelist, Sova the same for Initiators, Killjoy for Sentinels and Astra for Controllers. The only major change was that Jett-Reyna overtook Jett-Raze as the most picked Double-Duelist comp. However, it was around this point that teams started shifting from pure Duelists to pseudo-Duelists like Skye, Breach and KAY/O.
“‘Double Duelist’ was only really popular in NA, that I guess relied on more pop-off players,” Ryan “RyanCentral” Horton, VALORANT Content Creator, Caster and Analyst said. “Team utility is much more important in team play than duelists… so a change in pick rate signaled a change in what teams focused on.”
At the end of VCT Stage 3, following Double Duelist, Double Initiator was the second-most picked comp, appearing in 36.1% of all comps. This is where the dreaded Skye-Sova comp started making headway, appearing 22.1% in all comps in this period and making up 75.9% of all Double Initiator comps.
Finishing strong: Last Chance Qualifiers and Champions
Patches included in this period: 3.07-3.10
This period was the first time during VCT 2021 that a different comp had a higher pick rate than Double-Duelist. Double-Initiator took that title and carried it all the way to the end of year, where it appeared in 49.7% of all comps in Patch 3.10 (the same patch played during Champions). The most picked Double-Initiator comps featured Skye-Sova (25.4% of all comps) and KAY/O-Sova (16.8% of all comps). Double-Duelist was the second most-picked comp at the end of the year with Jett-Reyna at the top of that list.
In addition, this is the first period where Astra reached a +50% pick rate and Viper a +45% pick rate. Every non-Sova Initiator reached a peak as well, with Breach at 15.2%, KAY/O at 9.1% and Skye at 44.2%. PlatChat cohost and VALORANT analyst Wyatt River attributed this to nerfing Skye from her broken state, KAY/O getting some small but effective buffs and the addition of Fracture giving Breach a new home.
“Riot’s decisions on buffs and nerfs for Initiators this past year directly dictated how the game was played,” River said. “Though the opposite can be said for Sova, who stays unchanged and has remained at an S tier level since the beta was released.”
VCT 2021 meta winners and losers
So, with all this information, who were the biggest winners and losers of VCT 2021?
The Overthrown: Cypher, Omen and Raze
Cypher once stood tall as the leader of the Sentinels category, with a 48.3% pick rate. His ability to both collect information and command space simultaneously was hard to beat.
However, as time went on, Killjoy emerged as the favored Sentinel. She could combo her mollies with Viper and Astra utility, her turret could bait for a team member, who could swing off its ping. Then, of course, there is her Lockdown, which requires serious investment to counter. And so Cypher dropped off near the end of the year, sinking 29.5% to a 19.1% pick rate.
“With Cypher right now, there is just so much counter to his utility,” professional VALORANT coach and analyst Michael “MikesHD” Hockom said. “Most trips have counter lineups from Sova, Raze or just spam lineups because the trip spots are so predictable and limiting.”
Omen, meanwhile, started the year out at a 72.6% pick rate. He loomed over teams with his ability to take space, catch enemies and cause mayhem. However, with the introduction of Astra, and maps with more open areas like Breeze and Icebox, Omen’s viability plummeted, dropping 65.1% to the end of the year.
Astra’s range simply out-scales his, and she can outpace him at every aspect of the game with her utility. There is simply no room for this spooky ghost boy, which is why he fell to a 7.5% pick rate in the end. Omen is, single-handedly, the agent who suffered the most from the VCT 2021 meta.
Raze is in a similar boat. At the beginning of the year, she sat at a comfortable 52.7% pick rate, second only to Jett. She possessed an unparalleled ability to clear space and she fit almost everywhere. However, as time went on, Jett-Reyna popped up more, and Riot introduced more open maps.
As teams slowly moved away from Double-Duelist, even on her main maps like Bind or Split, teams subbed her out for an Initiator. They were not going to give up their Jett, nor were they giving up their Astra or two Initiators. So, it was either play a Raze or play a Viper/Sentinel. And considering her maps were Bind and Split, teams typically went with the latter option. As a result, Raze stepped out of the limelight, dropping 25.4% to a 27.3% pick rate.
The climbers: Sage and Skye
Sage wasn’t played as much at the beginning of VCT 2021, with a 25.6% pick rate. Cypher and Killjoy overtook her, and she was mainly run as a secondary Sentinel. However, over time, Sage solidified her spot in the meta as one of the main picks on Split and Icebox. Her walls on these maps are crucial, especially on Icebox, where her they are a near necessity for B executes and plants.
But she didn’t peak at the end of the year actually, instead doing so during LCQ, where she hit a massive 50.4% pick rate. So, while her end-of-year pick rate of 39.2% is not her highest, it is still a massive increase of 13.6% from the start of the year.
Skye was actually one of the least picked agents starting the year. She was tied with Viper with a 5.0% pick rate. However, as time went on, Skye solidified herself as a solid pick for any team. The major turning point for her came during Patch 3.0 when she jumped from a 25.6% pick rate to 37.1%. The Patch 3.0 buffs really inflated her oppressive power. Even with KAY/O and Breach seeing some increased play, Skye held strong with a 44.2% pick rate, a 39.2% jump from the start of the year.
The forgotten: Brimstone, Phoenix and Yoru
Brimstone is one of those agents with niche abilities, but that niche is not enough to save him from a painfully low pick rate. In the beginning, when teams didn’t pick Icebox as much and bubble smokes were the only viable ones, Brimstone saw a 23.3% pick rate. Not very high, but considering the next highest was Viper with 5.0%, it was definitely not the worst.
Then Astra came along, and Riot released the Viper Toxin buffs, and Icebox and Breeze became frequent maps. These were punches in the gut to Brimstone, who went from an OK pick rate to an abysmal one near the end of the year. Teams pumped some life into him near the end of Stage 2 with a Brimstone-Viper comp, but when the Initiator meta rose to prominence, there was no need from him. So, he dropped hard, landing a 5.4% pick rate at the end of the year — an 18.2% drop.
Like Brimstone, Phoenix was not picked often at the start of the year — but a 17.8% pick rate wasn’t horrible. He was mainly paired with Jett and Raze, as he supplemented their lack of flashes. However, two agents seemed to take what he did and do it better: Skye and KAY/O.
Looking at these pick rates over time, there’s an almost linear correlation between the three: As KAY/O and Skye saw more and more play, Phoenix kept tanking. Want Phoenix’s flash? Use Skye. She can gather other information, too. Want his molly and Run it Back ability? KAY/O has a strong molly that can do more burst damage, his ultimate suppresses even if he is downed and he can be picked up by a teammate. As a result, he languishes in the forgotten tier with a 2.2% pick rate, a 15.4% drop.
Finally, Yoru. I’m going to just cue the sad violin music now. The highest pick rate that Yoru reached was (ready for this?) 2.0%. To put that another way, he only showed up once in every 50 VCT affiliated games — and that was at his peak, which was the Stage 2. By the end, he actually dropped back down to a 0.8% pick rate, which is once out of every 125 VCT affiliated games.
Seeing Yoru in a game is a rarity because his kit does not add much to a team that could be using a Skye or a Jett. However, with a rework on the horizon, hopefully, this forgotten agent will be remembered eventually.
The rulers: Astra, Jett, Killjoy, Sova and Viper
Astra is, undoubtedly, the queen of the bubble smoke Controllers. With her infinite range, near-infinite resources (with her ability to recall stars) and unlimited utility potential, it is no surprise she absolutely destroyed VCT 2021 by going from not even existing to a 56.6% pick rate by the end of the year.
And with Jett, is anyone surprised? Jett is quite literally the face of VALORANT. Above all else, she can hold her own, making her the perfect duelist for double or single Duelist comps. No other duelists can contest with her speed, entry potential and kill power. Her final pick rate was 72.7%.
Killjoy overtook Cypher and completely usurped him. Her ability to lockdown sites with damage is strong, her retake potential is ever greater and her post-plant power is an absolute headache. Having a Killjoy on the enemy team means there is an ever-looming threat of damage. Her final pick rate was 51.1%.
Sova, like Jett, is also a no brainer for this category. Even with Skye, KAY/O and Breach running around, Sova has remained the most picked Initiator of VCT 2021. His information is a near-necessity and his ability to clear space with his Shock Darts and Hunter’s Fury puts the other Initiators to shame. His final pick rate was 66.0%.
If Astra rules the bubble smoke Controllers, Viper is the empress of open map Controllers. She is the only Controller that can smoke reliably on Icebox and Breeze, which makes her a near must-pick on these maps. Her final pick rate was 46.7%, a far cry from her 5.0% at the start of the year.
Now, what about Breach, Reyna and KAY/O? These agents are much harder to pin down.
Breach dropped a lot over the year, with his lowest point coming at the end of Stage 3 — a 3.4% pick rate. But, with the release of Fracture, he is seeing new life and is back up to a 15.2% pick rate. So, while it is definitely lower than the 28.2% he started out with, he was saved by the newest map and will probably stay pretty consistent as long as teams pick Fracture.
Reyna, meanwhile, did not really change in pick rate. She started out with a 26.9% pick rate but only went up 5% throughout the course of the year, so there really isn’t a spot to put her in. And for KAY/O, while he did see increasing play since release, he only peaked at 9.1% at the end of the year.
That covers the entire timeline of VCT 2021, and things should only get weirder as Chamber and Neon are added to the mix. With a new patch looming in the distance alongside the prospect of more maps, reworks and new agents, VCT 2022 is bound to be just as turbulent as VCT 2021.