Thoughts on the First Valorant Agent Pick/Ban System

I remembered when Valorant was first released during the beta and I was playing with my friends, I had the thought that eventually Valorant would evolve to an agent pick/ban system similar to Riot’s other major title, League of Legends, as the game grew and it began to gain traction as an esport. Fast forward all the way to this past week, we saw the first official Valorant tournament to introduce an agent ban system during the KnightsArena $5K Qualifiers. The concept of an agent ban system brings forth a number of implications that deserves more discussion. How would this affect esports? If we see positive feedback from it, how soon would we see it implemented into the top tier of competitions? Additionally, would this eventually get added to the regular matchmaking or remain only in esports? As our focus is on esports and the MEL, the lens will be focused on the agent ban system’s impact at that level as we dive in.

To begin, we will take a look at how the agent bans were enforced in the tournament. Agent bans came after the map vetoes, playing out as follows: both teams would protect two agents through the entirety of the series, with the higher seed banning first in both sets of agent protections. After these four agent protections, both teams would ban one agent. Again, this would be for the whole series and the higher seed would ban first. Now that the format is laid out, I’ll share my thoughts from the agent ban system in itself to how it was in that specific format.

In terms of the agent bans on their own, my overall sentiment is that it’s a good idea and has its place in Valorant esports, however it’s not quite there yet. Two main things come to mind. First, the agent pool is still slightly too shallow. Currently, the agent pool sits at 18 after the introduction of Neon. I think the agent pool is almost there, when it reaches about 25, this agent ban system will function much better. The other major factor will be expanding the number of viable agents. We see nearly all agents picked a good amount at the highest level, sorry Yoru. However, there are a few agents, namely Sova, Astra, Jett, and even Skye, that you nearly see in every game. Lowering the feeling of necessity for these agents will make for better games, not only from a team’s perspective, but for viewers as well. Drawing from League of Legends where the total champion pool spans over 150, it’s known that at the esports level that the “meta picks” will usually range around 30-50 depending on the patch. Proportionally, the amount of agents that are viable in Valorant is in a good spot, however due to the lower total to choose from, this proportion feels much more significant to where agent bans would only add to that issue. Also, in this format, the agent protections and bans were for the entire series, leaving the question to be desired, how would this play out if the agent pick/ban phase took place for each individual map? This would make the system even more important in the role it has on the outcome of the game and I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets experimented with next after this first introduction to agent bans. With all of this being said, it is a good sign of game evolution, something that Valorant’s predecessor, Counter Strike: Global Offensive severely lacked and it will be interesting to see how teams adapt.

If this agent ban system does grow in popularity, the preparation going into matches will increase massively for teams. Not only will teams now have to analyze the maps of their opponents, but an added layer of decision making will be introduced. Coaches and analysts will have to invest more time into deeper draft theory like we see currently in League of Legends. Will teams target a certain agent pivotal to a comp or single out an individual that they know excels on a certain agent, forcing players to expand their agent pools? For example, Raze for TenZ. In the end, though it would take some time for teams to fully understand how to get the best out of their agent protections and bans, once teams get a firm grasp on it, the competition level will soar, making for intense matchups, starting from before Round 1 even begins.

Overall, the introduction of agent pick/ban is a big step in the evolution of Valorant and it will be interesting to see how the community reacts to it. So long as change isn’t change for the sake of change, I think any evolution is a good sign of the growth of a game. Whether the change is good or bad, it shows that the game is still green and the desire for it to grow is there. Additionally, if the change is strongly disliked, it can always be reverted after ample time to see if the reaction was because it was just new and took some time to get used to or if it was truly a bad change to the game. The most successful title that is closest to Valorant is CS:GO, which dominated the tactical shooter community for years, but the main issue was that there wasn’t enough adaptation or evolution to the game. Valorant seems to be taking steps in the right direction to combat falling into the same trap. It is easy to forget just how young Valorant still is, but it is exciting to see how much it has grown and leaves the community with more excitement to see what it has in store for the future.

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