2020 has been a bit of a bummer across the board, but there’s at least been routine that has helped recenter my chi before each working week: Every Sunday for a couple of hours I meet with friends online and play Riot Games’ excellent 5v5 tactical shooter, Valorant.
It started as a social gathering — a tonic for the oppressiveness of life under lockdown, way back when COVID-19 was only just starting to obliterate any semblance of normal life. But as the months have rolled on we’ve grown in confidence as a team, and so too have we all become more competitive. We call tactics, we cheer victories, and bemoan frustrating mistakes.
But let’s get one thing clear: we’re just a bunch of thirty-somethings playing a highly skill-based shooter while we gargle beer and make silly jokes. We’re casuals, and we’re largely out of our depth playing a game that demands a lot of time to master properly. None of that is lost on us.
Still, we’re not that bad. I’ve had years of experience playing Counter-Strike to a high level, and while none of us practice Valorant outside of the weekly get-together, other members of the team play competitive games like Rainbow Six Siege. We’re not total newbs.
That level of commitment, though, isn’t enough for Valorant, a game that apparently wants us to quit our day jobs, give up our responsibilities, and knuckle down to play countless hours before it deems us worthy to enjoy ranked “Competitive” play as a group.
That’s thanks to a recent and rather baffling decision from developer Riot Games to restrict the gap between ranks allowed during Competitive play from 6 to just 3 tiers. It was introduced in patch 1.10 back in October.
Before the update, those playing at, say, Silver 3, could play with those of Iron 3, whereas now every member of the team would have to be at least Bronze 1.
As I understand it, this decision, like most that Riot makes when it comes to balancing Valorant, is one that’s designed to benefit those at the very highest level of the game: the players who grind hours of Valorant’s elite ranks and take the whole thing very seriously.
The hardcore, if you will, who lamented the amount of time it took to move between rank tiers at the very top when all too often their games were flooded by lower-ranked players.
To be honest, I can appreciate Riot wanting to serve them first and foremost. After all, they’re the committed hardcore with an interest in helping raise the overall standard of the game. Also, they probably spend the most money.
The problem, though, is that it’s had catastrophic consequences for the beer-drinking, once a week casual teams like mine.
We love the game, too, and we want to enjoy the progression and excitement of ranked play as we work toward the battle pass objectives we’ve paid for — just the same as those sweaty, serious Diamond and Radiant nerds.
But we’re not allowed to. It’s unranked only for poor old us because one or two of our team aren’t as experienced as the rest.
The only time we get to try is when the fortnightly rank reset period takes us all back to square one and we’re eligible for a single placement game. It happened just this past weekend, in fact; although, after just the one match I’d ranked 4 tiers higher than someone else and it was back to unrated. Great.
To hell with unrated, though, which at times is a cesspit full of either clueless first-timers or way-too-experienced veterans, or sometimes an uncomfortable mix of both.
Every second game is either 13-0 or 0-13, and all too often there’s team sabotaging or disconnectors and/or (usually and) cases of massive douchebaggery.
Surely my team isn’t the only casual Valorant 5-stack that’s been impacted by the problem? Surely there are others out there who don’t have time to conduct practice sessions mid-week to drag their squad within the same 3 tiers?
But I guess since we’re such a low rank then we’re not worthy of as much consideration? At least, it’s hard not to feel that way when we’ve been unabashedly abandoned by a developer seemingly only intent on supporting its best players. Quite how Riot expects to grow the game’s reach and popularity with these restrictions in place, I don’t know.
What I do know is that with each passing week of frustration we’re edging ever-closer to returning to games like Overwatch that have robust, inclusive progression systems. Or more to the point, the ability to matchmake teams based on skill, which is pretty much a bare minimum expectation most players have of any online shooter.
Listen, I get it: my team is a bit of an anomaly. We’re not the majority, and we’re not big spenders. But we do want to continue loving Valorant and feel as though we’re allowed to enjoy its full experience after having been loyally playing since launch. I’m sure we’re not alone.
I can’t see any disadvantage to widening the tier gap below Gold and keeping the hardcore separate. Hopefully, someone at Riot agrees soon.