Valorant is a team-based tactical shooter from Riot Games, the studio behind League of Legends. "Tactical" means the game favors slower-paced, more deliberate gameplay based on positioning and ability usage -- more Rainbow Six Siege than Call of Duty, though the closest comparison is Counter-Strike. But Valorant also features various agents with unique abilities, akin to Apex Legends and Overwatch.
If all the excitement around the Valorant Stage 3 Masters tournament has piqued your interest in the game, now is a great time to get started.
In Valorant's primary game mode, you play as an agent on a team of five players, facing off against an opposing team of players. There are other game modes, like free-for-all deathmatch, which are great for warming up and practicing with different guns.
Each match takes place on one of several maps with different styles and layouts -- from cramped monasteries to seaside ruins with long sightlines. One team starts as the attackers, with the goal of eliminating the enemy team and planting a bomb, known as the "spike." The other team defends the map, attempting to wipe out the attackers before they can plant, and defusing the bomb if it does get planted. Teams switch sides after 12 rounds, and the first team to win 13 rounds wins the match -- though competitive mode requires teams to win by at least two rounds.
Valorant takes inspiration from a variety of games and blends them into a truly unique gameplay experience. If you want to get in on the action, you'll need a PC. But the game is free to play and has pretty forgiving system requirements, so it's easy to get started. We'll break down everything you need to know.
How to download Valorant
Before you download the game, you'll need a Riot account. If you don't have one already, you can create one on the Valorant site by clicking "Play Now" in the top-right corner.
Once you're logged in, you'll be directed to a page with a red Download button. Click that button and follow the prompts to install the game on your PC. When the installation is finished, you can create a shortcut on your desktop that will take you straight to the launcher.
Sign in through the game launcher and you'll dive straight into the game! If it's your first time signing in with that account, the game will direct you through a tutorial that teaches you the basic mechanics and objectives of the game (planting and defusing a bomb, called the "spike"). Once you're done with that, the game will be open to you.
How to unlock Valorant agents
When you first start the game, you'll have access to five agents: Brimstone, Jett, Phoenix, Sage and Sova. All other agents will be locked at the start, and you'll have to unlock them via the agent's contract. Contracts are a progression system, divided into 10 chapters, that allow you to unlock content related to each agent.
By activating an agent's contract, you will start to unlock contract chapters as you gain account points by playing games. Each chapter costs progressively more points to unlock. After unlocking the fifth chapter in an agent's contract, you will gain access to that character. This means every player can unlock every agent without spending a single dollar on the game.
However, If you want to start off with your favorite character or just want faster access to an agent, you can unlock contract chapters by spending Valorant Points from the store. The first five contract chapters require a sum of 1,000 VP, which costs $10 to purchase.
How to unlock Valorant's ranked mode
After you complete the tutorial, you'll have access to most of Valorant's game modes. However, the game's competitive mode is locked until you win 10 unranked matches. Riot, like most game developers, wants to make sure you have a basic understanding of the game before you start competing in ranked mode.
What to know before you play
There are a few facets of the game that take some getting used to, especially if you're new to the tactical shooter genre. The practice range is a good way to train your aim and get used to the different weapons, but there's plenty more to learn. Here's a basic overview to get you started.
1. You have to buy guns and abilities
Every character has a signature ability that they get for free every round. Everything else in the match has to be earned by winning rounds, playing objectives and eliminating your opponents. Those acts give you credits, which you can spend at the start of each round to buy weapons, armor and abilities.
Most abilities cost a few hundred credits, depending on how powerfully they affect the battlefield. Simple smokes to disrupt sightlines are cheaper, while abilities that gain information and block off enemies are more expensive. But each agent's strongest ability -- their "ultimate" -- has to be earned by killing opponents and capturing orbs. Each kill and orb provides one point toward an ultimate, but different ultimates have different costs (usually between six and eight points).
You'll also be able to buy weapons and armor during the setup phase. You can upgrade your sidearm to one of four other handguns, and choose from a dozen primary weapons that make it easier to take out opponents. Primary weapons range from 850 credits for a pump-action shotgun to 4,700 credits for a sniper rifle that will take out any opponent in one shot. Armor gives you additional health and lowers most incoming damage.
2. Valorant is an objective-based game
Many rounds turn into frag-fests, with each team trying to wipe out the other, but that's not a guarantee of victory. Attacking teams are trying to plant the spike, so defeating all the enemies does mean they win the round. But defending teams can still lose rounds even after killing their opponents, if they don't defuse the spike in time. Similarly, attackers can still earn extra credits by planting the spike, even if they lose the round.
If you're the last one left on your team, you can still hurt your opponents even if the round feels unwinnable. Each enemy you kill before the end of the round means another person on their team has to spend money to buy guns and armor. Resetting your opponents' economy like that can turn around matches if they've been aggressively spending while your team was saving. Plus, you never know when you might clutch out a round win.
3. "If you're not a good shot today, don't worry. There are other ways to be useful."
That's a quote from Sova, one of the Valorant agents. It's also a good reminder to the players that, yes, mechanical skill will take you far -- very far -- in the game, but it's not everything. Good aiming mechanics won't save you from bad positioning if your opponent sneaks up from behind or the entire enemy team rushes you at once.
Valorant is a tactical shooter, and some people are better at the tactics than the shooting. There's nothing wrong with that. If you get taken out early in a round, watch the mini-map to see where enemies are and what ultimates are available, and make concise suggestions based on that information. Even if you're still alive, knowing where to place smokes, when to rotate across the map and when to pop ultimate abilities can be just as crucial to victory as landing headshots.
So get in there, good luck and have fun!