It’s fair to say that the speed with which Riot Games has pushed Valorant to the very apex of both the esports scene and FPS mainstream has been incredibly impressive to watch unfold. I’ve marveled many times about it in previous articles that have celebrated its ambitious VCT program, consistent and well-considered updates, and most recently, the success of Masters Reykavek even without the live crowds that have recently been confirmed as in the works for later this year.
Certainly, Valorant’s passionate and hardcore fanbase hasn’t been shy in voicing concerns over a few missteps along the way. But for the most part, the past two years have demonstrated Riot’s commitment to quality and its experience in handling huge esports programs to the extent that has cemented its status as an industry leader.
2022 has brought with it more good news; Valorant esports clearly has a bright future following the publisher’s announcement that a new, innovative franchising initiative would be transforming the face of VCT. Where previous franchising systems such as the Overwatch League demanded enormous investment from interested organizations, Riot has pledged to cover costs itself. There’s also a healthy Tier 2 scene growing across different regions that seems to suggest some sort of promotion/relegation clause to keep things competitive moving forward. At the grassroots level, there’s also a much-anticipated in-game tournament system on the way to offer a “path to pro” for young players.
It’s all been music to the ears of Valorant enthusiasts like myself.
Unfortunately, though, this week’s edition of ‘Ask Valorant,’ an official Riot Games blog answering popular fan questions, hasn’t continued that same, upbeat note.
In fact, it’s delivered one strange and disappointing reality about key features that many players had been expecting to see in Valorant sooner, rather than later: a replay system.
Riot Games first teased a replay system way back in 2020 during the game’s launch period, and it had been suggested by the publisher that the feature was in the works and on the way when it said:
Yes! this is something that we’re interested in exploring soon. Whether it’s to study previous matches for tactical advantages or to create spicy memes, we know that players will find a wide range of interesting uses for a system like this.
A replay system is, of course, a hugely important quality of life feature for any competitive shooter, let alone a tac-shooter such as Valorant with a massive esports program that supports hundreds of professional players all around the globe. It’s actually rather basic, in fact, and something that probably should have been included at launch but wasn’t because, well, it’s the 2020s and free-to-play video games are often released as a barebones foundation with the promise of new features to be added moving forward.
Fair play. But now two years on with Valorant as successful a money-maker as it seemingly is for Riot, and with the major plans it has for the game’s esports future, it’s already late. Now, it apparently isn’t even coming. Riot said in its most recent blog:
“The shortest answer today is that there is no plan for a player-facing version of a replay system, as of now.“
The explanation is that the development team has weighed the decision against what it considers other more pressing features, such as “new ways to track and reward Agent progress, player behavior tools, (and) different ways to collect in-game items”
Right. So we’re ditching a replay system for what sounds essentially like more ways to create a stronger sense of player progression, which, ultimately, is presumably designed to increase monetization of those players in the long run? I’m extrapolating a bit, sure, but that’s what that statement screams to me — save for the bit about enhanced player behavior tools, which are always a good thing for the ranked experience, I suppose.
Whether my read is on point or not, though, the main takeaway is Riot’s priorities seem to be a bit jumbled up here. Surely, the replay system is something that should be on an express order at this point? It’s a feature Counter-Strike, a tac-shooter with which Valorant will always be compared due to their shared DNA, had nearly twenty years ago. Seriously. I remember recording tournament games using an HLTV client and then having full access to watching games from every different perspective in 2004!
It’s true that other big esports, such as Overwatch, didn’t incorporate a replay system until franchising was well underway, back in 2018. Still, that’s not really an excuse, and Blizzard’s efforts with Overwatch perhaps aren’t the best lead to follow anyway.
For all its good work so far, I expected more from Riot here, and I really hope the outcry from the Valorant’s hardcore community and its professional scene convince the development team to change tracks.
Such a big part of Valorant’s success has been that it’s been built from the ground up as an esports-first title. Of course, it’s equally true also that, among many other well-considered elements of Valorant’s design, its more accessible gameplay and fun progression mechanics have forged a more welcoming path for casuals to become invested in the tac-shooter genre. But I really want to see this balance continue moving forward and for Riot not to stray too far from pushing on and delivering features such as the replay system for more hardcore and esports-centric players.