After the gaming community got so see just a few seconds of gameplay featuring Project A, League of Legends developer Riot Games’ first new IP since 2009 gained a lot of hype. People hoped it would turn out to achieve what CSGO never was able to accomplish.
While the Counter Strike franchise failed to innovate and rested on the success of previous entry, the game later to be announced as Valorant was expected to become the next big thing in competitive gaming, esports, and the skill-based tactical shooter genre as a whole.
Aside from my esports bubble revolving around the best or most popular and successful organizations, the occasional drama and PR fails, I did not register any of the content updates riot made available for the game. Now, almost a year later, I finally decided to give it a try and was surprised to see how much was added after the initial release.
About 500 channels were allowed to stream Valorant for the first wave of beta key drops, snowballing to about 8000 channels streaming the game live on twitch, with many creators getting access to the game, streaming it, and giving even more members of the community the opportunity to join the beta. This was enhanced by positive testimonials from viewers’ favorite streamers and a feeling of exclusivity, leveraging the nowadays omnipresent fear of missing out on social media through artificial scarcity, accumulating roughly 1.6M peak viewers when closed beta launched.
The Drop system developed by Twitch is basically a lottery. Viewers were eligible for being drawn after watching 2 hours combined of Valorant streams. However, it was said that more hours were supposed to increase one’s chances and only counting when sound is turned on. There were other things that were supposedly increasing your luck to get beta access to the game turning out to be untrue, misinforming many community members.
This soon turned into people boosting viewership artificially through multiple accounts and streamed hours with 24/7 VOD streams pushing broadcasters up in the directory to be discovered by even more people that may believe it would be actually live content they are watching, with twitch and streamers cashing in on ad revenue, but decreasing the value provided on twitch for marketers. Users were massively misinformed, believing that participating in chant and following or subscribing to a Valorant streamer would increase chances to obtain a key drop.
In effect, the numbers spiked up in the beginning, only to crash back down soon after. Regulars and members of established communities suffered under drops too. Chat was now overrun by strangers not caring for the actual content and never engaging again after they received the drop, furtherly discouraging the former dedicated viewer base of a streamer — could be avoided by subscriber only chat, but locking out longtime followers as well.
Destined to fail
The pre-launch hype died down rather quickly in effect of negative association with the game due to deceiving actions of various streamers, abusing the drop feature that was used to give players access to the beta.
Several channels restreamed old VODs of previous streams in 24/7 Valorant streams, encouraging viewers to idle in these streams for a chance of receiving a beta key for the game. Other streamers deceived the twitch community by featuring the term “drops enabled” in their streaming title, but not actually having them enabled in the system, just to claim some of the increased viewership for themselves. The first of these two was defined as against terms of service soon after by twitch officials. But foe some, this was not enough. Many voices claiming that Twitch would put new game releases over its devoted community and user experience.
Valorant earned more negative publicity surrounding its bundled anti-cheat software Vanguard, managing to brick some of the beta tester’s gaming rigs. Another point mentioned by many critiques is weapon skin prices being inflated and not consumer friendly. Other big streamers mainly coming from a CSGO background claimed the map design had too many angles, making gameplay feel slow and not fun to watch, but also that there was too much going on utility wise. Valorant got its full release soon after beta, with some suspecting Riot was cashing in on people staying home or taking emergency action facing decreasing twitch viewership and less channels streaming the game.
Valorant didn’t live up to the expectations it set itself. In reality, the hype was never really there. The game specifically tailored towards the CSGO community and putting a twist on the genre featuring personality driven characters with unique abilities instead of nameless soldiers and a well-developed visual style aiming to be likeable and be easy to run on low-end rigs mixed popular and proven game elements together and gained great initial responses from the community.
Riot Games discovered Twitch Drops as a relatively cheap and effective marketing platform, but as soon as others saw the potential of the mechanic, everyone wanted their piece of the cake, resulting in massive streaks of misinformation and abusing mechanisms of the website.
As of today, Valorant is still too new to have an esports scene thoroughly established like other popular titles, being designed for it to induce a massive impact into the scene, riot let it grow organically through tournaments held by third parties. Though Valorant is struggling to find its footing in south Korea with pc cafes being closed during the pandemic and doubt and issues with anti-cheat software disabling hardware, only future will tell whether it will live up to fulfill its whole potential.
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