A fundamental new-player VALORANT guide
Thu 8th Oct 2020 - 10:04pm
With VALORANT firmly establishing itself as a tactical-first person shooter mainstay, you won’t be alone in finding yourself dragged into the game by your FPS-aficionado friends. Whether you’ve only recently gotten into PC Gaming or you’ve simply stuck to other genres thus far, this is the guide to cover all your bases and get you ready and excited for every match of VALORANT to come. However, even a somewhat informed player will find that while they’ve already acquired most of the information in this guide through years of playing first person shooters and weeks or months of getting into VALORANT, that doesn’t necessarily mean there couldn’t be a point in there that makes even the most experienced, Diamond ranked player go: “Huh, so that’s how that works!”.
Before You Play:
So, you’ve downloaded VALORANT, gotten some snacks ready to go, and you’re even in a Discord call with friends who’ve played for weeks. Perfect. But before you start jumping head-first into an unrated game – where nothing but your pride is on the line – let’s take a look at your setup. We won’t be able to change your gaming rig, work laptop, or shared family PC on the spot, but a key step toward performing well in FPS games is your sensitivity.
Your mouse has a set DPI (dots per inch), which can be changed based on preference. While some mice allow for free customization of this, others will give you a number of options to select from manually. Ideally, we’d prefer the former, but even the latter doesn’t have to hold you back. As a rule of thumb, FPS games are generally best played on a lower DPI, allowing for pinpoint precision.
Depending on your style of aiming, anything in the 400 to 1000 range can be a good fit for you. Another key factor here is mouse space, which you’d preferably have a lot of. As for your aiming style, the terms wrist-aiming and arm-aiming are the two common types. While wrist-aiming allows for lightning fast reactions, snapping to your target’s head when they peek a corner or you enter a site, arm-aiming is more adept at sweeping motions, covering longer distances on the screen. Generally, you’ll want to play with a higher DPI if you are wrist-aiming and lower it somewhat when arm-aiming. Regardless, mouse-space is your friend. The more space you have to freely move your hand, the less likely you’ll be to lose a gunfight because your hand slipped off the table.
Lastly, arm-aiming is generally seen as healthier, causing less strain on your wrist and subsequently not falling as prone to the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Don’t fret if you are a wrist-aimer however, it’s how I’ve played for years. Just make sure to do the occasional stretching exercise while you’re queuing up. You won’t find these here, though – this is a VALORANT guide after all.
The 101 of VALORANT:
VALORANT is, broken down to its smallest parts, not too different from the run-of-the-mill tactical first person shooter. Ten players compete against each other in teams of five to see who can rack up the required amount of round wins - thirteen - first and take the match victory. Core to achieving this goal is everything from macro strategy, understanding in-game economy and, of course, raw aim. However, when you are starting out, worrying about all the ins and outs of this immensely complex game might seem a little overwhelming. Now that we've gone over the things you should consider before jumping into your first match, let's get into what you're trying to do in the game.
If you have played any tac-shooters, such as Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six: Siege before, the initial objectives will come quite naturally to you. If you haven't, you can win a round by either eliminating the 5 players on the opposing team before they do the same to you, or you can complete or prevent the objective from being completed. The attacking team has to plant the so called spike - equivalent to the bomb in Counter-Strike and the defuser in Rainbow Six - on one of the sites present on every map within the allotted 100 second timeframe of the round. Depending on the map, there are - as of September 2020 - two to three sites on each map, allowing the attacking team to adjust their move on the fly and exploit points where the defenders are spread thin.
After twelve rounds have been played, the sides switch, with the former defenders now having to attack while the attackers take their positions on the sites. If the 24 standard rounds do not crown a winner, overtime rounds will be added to decide which team comes out on top. Between these rounds, though not between the side-switches, money earned through play is retained and can be invested into a variety of gear, equipment and weaponry. While both teams start out with a small amount in the first round of each half - 800 credits to be specific - some weapons, like the heavy sniper rifle 'Operator', come with the hefty pricetag of 4500 creds.
When a player dies in a round, the carried weapon is dropped while armor and equipment are lost and will need to be repurchased at the start of the next round. Depending on the circumstance, intentionally not buying expensive or even any equipment in a round can be a viable tactic, to give you and your teammates a better shot at winning the oncoming rounds with more credits available. This is commonly known as a 'save'.
While the majority of the game's fundamentals rely on these well established tac-shooter concepts, VALORANT comes with its own twist on the genre - Agents.
What are Agents and how to pick yours:
Moreso than map design, the spike, or even weaponry, the core focus of VALORANT are its Agents. They are selectable characters, some of which are accessible right from the get-go, while others have to unlocked through play or with money, which come with their own unique set of skills, equipment, and personality. The only common factor between them is that they all have the same amount of health - 100, in addition to whatever tier of armor they have equipped - and that all of them can buy the same set of weapons.
However, that's where the similarities end. Every Agent has their own unique signature ability, which they receive some number of charges of at the start of every round. Furthermore, they have a set of special equipment which can be bought at various price points. While one Agent's ability may retain four charges at 100 credits each, anothers may only have one charge for the steep price of 600 credits. Generally speaking, however, these pieces of equipment are worthwhile investments, as they'll provide powerful utility or fragging power and allow their Agent to play in ways no one else is able to.
Some Agents also feature their own passive bonuses, which come at no cost and are always active. For instance, the game's Korean superstar, Jett, has the ability to slow her fall when holding the jump key while mid-air.
Finally, Agents come equipped with an ultimate ability, which augments their playstyle in a variety of ways. Some ultimates are simply powerful offensive tools, while others are completely out of the box playmakers. The ultimate of Phoenix, a smooth-voiced British Agent, has the ability to grant him a second life for a brief period of time, allowing you to make risky pushes deep into a site or a chance to gather intel with no risk to your personal safety.
That leads right into the last unique aspect of VALORANT's Agents: Their personality. Every Agent comes equipped with a unique visual design, quips, and banter between their peers and, of course, a variety of out of game cosmetics to boot.
Based on all the above information, I'd recommend you take a thorough look through VALORANT's roster and pick your own Agent. Nothing will get you improving faster than to quickly familiarize yourself with one character so you can focus on the parts that really make a difference.
Getting through the Basics:
When it comes to performing in-game, there are plenty of good habits you should pick up early so they’ll be second nature to you in no time. First and foremost, a staple in FPS games, crosshair placement.
In layman’s terms, good crosshair placement will require nothing more than you pulling the trigger the moment an enemy shows up on your screen. You’ll want to line your crosshair up with the enemies’ head height – which, thankfully, is the same across all VALORANT agents – and place it as close to whichever angle of approach you are trying to hold as you can reasonably react to. That, of course, doesn’t have to be on the very edge of the corner you are watching, but rather a reasonable distance away that the enemy will more than likely walk into and give you enough time to react once they do.
There is little point to ‘perfectionist’ crosshair placement if it will just lead to you having to adjust your aim after all. A natural evolution of this skill, which you’ll hone through practice and always focusing on your play, is the vital skill of pre-aiming. While placing your crosshair correctly when holding an angle will secure you plenty of kills, it is an inherently defensive approach.
Pre-aiming, however, allows you to initiate aggressive pushes both when attacking and defending and is crucial to getting the opening picks that often swing a round in one team’s favour within seconds. You’ll want to develop some map knowledge to get a feel for every map’s geometry and angles, so spending a few hours in custom games walking through the maps will do wonders for you once you’ve gotten through the initial learning curve of “see enemy, click head” and “Raze grenade killed me four rounds in a row”.
Actively Improving Instead of Passively Stagnating:
One key part of learning the game is not to be discouraged by a bad performance. If you don’t have anyone to play with yet, there are plenty of ways to find likeminded new players or veterans looking for someone to take under their wing. And if you’d rather brave the trials and tribulations of Solo-Queue by yourself, playing with voice chat on is not for the faint of heart. Within a few games you’ll be playing with people around your skill level regardless, so disregarding harsh words thrown your way will quickly become second nature. If you’d rather skip that process entirely, however, there is nothing stopping you from disabling voice chat all together until you feel more comfortable in your own ability! Just remember, VALORANT is a team game so you’ll be best off providing information to all of your teammates once you jump into ranked.
However, the main takeaway here is in no way related to other community members you’ll be playing with, no, it’s quite the contrary: focus on yourself. If you want to improve, ask better players for advice, look for things you could have done better and most importantly, do not get upset when a match isn’t going your way. Every mistake you make early on is an opportunity to learn and grow as a player. Look for opportunities to skill-check other players, go for plays (even if they don’t end up working out) and be proactive.
Anyone can sit in spawn on attack, holding an angle with an Operator and go 13-7. But that’s not how you become a better player, develop good habits or learn anything from playing.
Coordination at Its Easiest:
Whether you are playing with a group of friends or are trying your luck with random teammates, a few simple concepts will help heaps with how easily the game will flow for your team and how coordinated your team will feel.
First and foremost, playing with the timer is easier said than done, but absolutely vital to consistently performing in VALORANT instead of counting on every one of your teammates to win their opening duels. Once a round of VALORANT kicks off, you’ll have a minute and 40 seconds to plant the spike on attack. That might not sound like much, but it’s plenty of time if you are approaching the round with a plan.
A few simple directions while waiting for the round to start will do wonders, and occasionally shaking it up with a fast push onto a site can be a great idea. However, often times simply pre-aiming – as we discussed earlier – a corner the defenders are likely to peek and punishing them when they do can crack a round wide open. Spending, over a minute holding angles might not be the part of the game that gets your adrenalin pumping, but it’s bound to net your team the edge more often than not.
Enemies are likely to use their utility early in the round to stave off what they believe to be the decisive push, while you wait around putting pressure on the enemy without putting your lives on the line. Once you’ve ran down the time and exhausted plenty of resources, coordinate a push at multiple angles which all converge on one site, albeit from multiple angles.
Defaulting and How It Wins Games:
Simply put, to run a default is to cover all likely avenues through which the defenders could make aggressive plays as mentioned above and then waiting for them to do so. Creating that utility or, ideally, agent advantage already puts you halfway to winning the round. Establishing map control is one of the most sure-fire ways to win rounds, whether on attack or defense, and defaulting allows for relatively easy to execute tactics to pay huge dividends.
There’s a time and place for hero plays and rushing into a site as five, but they are much less consistent than turning towards the most stable play there is: thus, the default.
This also plays right into playing to the timer and giving you the mental edge. While you and your teammates will have a set plan in mind and won’t be worrying once the timer starts ticking down despite no action having happened, but the opponents will be sweating bullets if they’ve been picked off looking for intel all round, yet they’ve yet to pinpoint where you’re headed by 30 seconds.
However, these tactics can of course be used against you as well. Frequently, defenses crumble not due to great plays from the opponent’s team, but unforced errors on the defenders’ side.
Defending with Purpose:
Two easy to implement steps can do a whole lot to prevent giving up unnecessary picks and succumbing to the pressure when it comes to defending. First and foremost, practicing patience and focus. Of course, you can’t do this in place of your teammates – though you could refrain from discussing what you had for breakfast in the middle of a round – but you can do it for yourself. On one hand, when holding an angle for two long, it is easy to start staring off into the void instead of actively looking out for incoming threats.
Try to recapture your focus, for instance by getting into the pattern of looking at the angle, checking your minimap for your teammates’ positioning and glancing at the surrounding area before refocusing. This process takes just a split-second but will help you get your mind back in the here and now while providing you with valuable information.
This, of course, also applies to any post-plant situations you find yourself in as the attackers. You will want to hold angles instead of hungrily looking for kills around the map. The pressure is now on the defenders and the clock is ticking, so you’ll want to be ready when they inevitably try to retake the site. Keeping the post-plant position in mind is also crucial when planting the spike, as you’ll want to be able to cover it without exposing yourself to approaching attackers. Ideally, you would have multiple angles that a potential defusing player would have to keep checking or clear, making it harder for them to pre-aim re-peeking attackers trying to defend the spike.
Getting Your Team on the Same Page:
While communicating with your teammates isn’t always a joy, if they seem even the slightest bit cooperative – or if you’re playing with a group of friends – getting everyone to play pre-assigned positions on defense is easier than it may seem.
Simply saying “I’d like to play A this game, could we get someone mid?” is often enough for people to naturally pick a position to play. Be open with where you are playing, it’ll make things a whole lot easier. However, here’s the important part: Once everyone has figured out their positions for the first round – let’s say you’re playing Split so you have one person watching B site, two people covering mid from opposing angles and another two playing positions on A – make it clear that you’ll be defaulting (there’s that word again) to those positions for the rest of the half unless something goes awry or a curveball strategy is in order.
Having a predetermined place to go to before the round starts will allow everyone to focus on the more important issues at hand, such as which ultimate abilities the enemy will have available, how their economy is looking and where utility is best utilized around one’s designated position.
And whether you are a new player or trying to level up your play, getting your team to play together will make the game more enjoyable to play regardless of everyone’s skill level.
At the end of the day, when getting into VALORANT, the first step to improving is to make sure you are enjoying yourself. No matter how great or poorly you do in your first game, there’ll be guaranteed to be room for improvement. If nothing else, then everyone’s aim has an infinite ceiling!
Play the way you enjoy, but there are two starkly different fast-track ways to long-term improvements. Either you can develop solid basic habits which will aid you through the rest of your time playing tactical shooters, or you can take every single skill-check you see and improve your mechanics by the minute. The choice is yours, and nothing’s stopping you with trying to walk the tightrope between the two! Good luck and have fun!