Riot's shooter is our pick for Best Multiplayer Game of 2020. We'll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.
Evan Lahti: Despite decades of developers borrowing and improving on each others' ideas (see: the battle royale genre), it's surprising that we still often get hung up on "copycat" games. And there's no series more sacred, more untouchable than Counter-Strike on PC, an FPS whose weapons and maps mostly resemble what we played 20 years ago. With Valorant, we learned that not only can Counter-Strike be copied, but that it's durable enough as an idea to be mutated and mixed without diluting the essence of what makes a high-lethality, angles-driven team FPS so fun.
At first Valorant was a glossy invitation to dust off those mothballed Counter-Strike skills; its weaponset is practically untouched from CS:GO's. But it quickly became its own thing, a remix of CS' format with walls of vision-denying smoke, healing, revives, scout drones, explosive tripwires, a turret, and—gasp—powerful ultimate abilities. It all worked: the range of utility abilities are harmonious with the maps, and the characters don't eclipse the action. Even teleporter fake-outs started to feel novel to this die-hard CS purist.
Phil Savage: Counter-Strike has always felt impenetrable to me—so heavily dependent on learned knowledge of maps and weapons and sightlines that I never felt I had a chance to catch up. Valorant's main appeal, then, was that it was a lot like something I wanted to try, but new enough that I felt I wasn't at a massive disadvantage coming in.
And while I quickly took to the pace and lethality of a CS-like shooter—and even felt a little bit silly for waiting this long to try one—ultimately it's the characters and their abilities that keep me coming back. As Evan notes, they don't eclipse the action—Valorant is not Overwatch—but they do give you a specific skillset that helps you find a place within your overall team strategy. At first their skills can feel underwhelming, but Valorant has taught me to appreciate the power of a subtle play that nudges a match in your favour. I felt incredible the first time I used a smoke to disrupt an enemy push, buying the extra few seconds needed to let the bomb do its job. And I love the way abilities like Jett's Updraft create an added extra dimension to the precise, measured movement and gunplay.
Emma Matthews: As a huge Counter-Strike fan I gave Valorant a hard time when it first launched. I couldn't ignore the elements it stole from CS:GO and Overwatch, and its characters' abilities felt like too much of a distraction from the classic 5v5 bomb defusal objective that I was used to. While I'd still much rather hop into a game on Mirage than Bind, I'm happy to see that Valorant has found its place in the competitive shooter genre. Each of its agents offer unique approaches, and when you take the time to learn them properly, it's possible to pull off some pretty impressive clutches.
Unlike CS:GO, where winning a round still largely relies on your raw skill with an AK or M4, Valorant throws more variables into the mix. Your proficiency with specific weapons, accuracy, and overall game sense is still rewarded here, but you also have an additional layer of skills to master. As you improve, you'll begin to consider your teammates' abilities, and you can start making calls on when it's best to combine your tools. You'll also need to have the enemy team's options in the back of your mind to anticipate what their strategy may be this round. Sure, it's more chaotic, but I understand why it's become so popular.