In the recent Riot dev post, VALORANT’s Game Designer, David “Milkcow” Cole, walks us through the foundations of balancing the game and its health. Even when the game was still in alpha, Riot Games already set up a team that had to get acquainted with the meaning of a “healthy game” - what things are overpowered and what are deficient. This is a pretty long post, so like always, get yourself comfy, hydrated, and let’s get started.
First of all, when you want to balance a game, you need to understand what it means to have a balanced game. For Riot the answer was simple - to make it fair and even for every player. They touched on this topic already before, when talking about skins and how they wanted to make sure no skins are paid to win, but this time David Cole gave us Riot’s “alphabet” of balance:
With that in mind, they created something called “the tac cycle” that Riot now uses in all their games. They figured out that these values are essential in keeping the game healthy.
David Cole also explains what these values actually mean:
Valorant is a game where every decision matters. When players decide to rush without sneaking to try and defuse the spike, you know it’s a high risk, high reward plan. When the player gets an intel on where the last enemy is waiting, but fails mechanically, it’s also clear why the plan didn’t work. The main goal is to make sure that there are no situations where players will be left with the thought, “What just happened and why did I die?”, no matter what level of play we are talking about. That includes the map players are playing on and the team composition.
For half a year now, VALORANT’s balance team has been working on the best solution to game balance, how they can gather information about the game and what to focus on. To make this task easier they came up with something called “balance radar.”
There are 3 main sources of information to balance the game, but all of them are equally important to keep it healthy. When something gets out of the bonds, it’s time to intervene and put that thing back on the right track.
VALORANT’s team also makes sure that every balance change stays in the “bounds” in the first place, though they are still not ready to share more information about these. More or less how it works is that they set up an upper and lower bound, for example: “Sage is busted” - “Viper is trash” or “Cypher is overpowered on defense” - “Cypher is useless on offense”.
We think that everybody who played in beta is aware of how strong the Agent Raze was during that time, so was Riot. She was the first Agent to get a treat of everything mentioned earlier, so let’s break it down how she got balanced from beta to live.
Firstly, the balance team put her in “the tac cycle” and figured out that she is not breaking it. What it means is that her abilities do not need an entire rework, but just an adjustment. The next step is to look at the balance radar, and in it - Game Data. That showed that her win ratio was 51%, and 53.5% when the enemy had no Raze. It’s not alarming yet, but the balance team started to become aware that they would have to look very in depth into the data. Next up: Sentiment Data. This provided a lot of information. Players were getting very frustrated with her kit and data showed that they were not reacting to her sound cues properly - to put it simply, players were not understanding what was going on when dying to Raze’s abilities.
This meant two things: Her having two grenades often resulted in free kills to a team trying to push her, which resulted in her having the ultimate way too often. Players were having a hard time reacting to her abilities in time, which resulted in them getting frustrated, because the only thing they understood is that they died. To overcome this, the balance team decided to lower her grenades from 2 to 1 and they changed her Ultimate audio cues, so players could understand the difference between the two. After changes were put to the servers, players liked the direction she was pushed into and started reacting to her sound cues. Teams were able to push her much easier than before, and most players stopped stacking when fighting her, and started reacting by leaving the area where Raze’s abilities were coming from. Her win rate also got hit, but not by that much.
What do you think about the current balance state of the game? Do you think that Raze needs more nerfs? Is “Sage busted” - if so, how would you change her? As always, we are waiting for your feedback in the comments below!
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