Riot devs reveal secrets behind how Valorant agents are balanced

Riot Games

Riot Games developers have explained how they use data and player feedback to choose which Valorant agents to buff and nerf, using the example of often-nerfed healer Sage.

Balancing characters in any video game is an almost impossible and thankless task for any developer. Everyone and their dog has an opinion on characters being too OP or too weak, and – depending on who you ask – a character can be both at the same time.

This is no different for Valorant. Since the game’s release, we’ve seen agents range from being far too OP — not least Cypher, who’s had some outrageous camera spots hotfixed — to completely underwhelming, like pre-patch 1.11 Breach.

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As part of their ‘Developer Messages’ series, the team working on Valorant have provided some neat insight on how they use stats to help identify which agents need tweaking.

Cypher gltich on Split.TheNeoStrike (Reddit)
This high Cypher cam angle on Split was patched a while ago, as it was far too OP.

When Riot devs know to nerf Valorant agents

Insights researcher Coleman “Altombre” Palm and Insights analyst Brian Chang have released a summary, using the example of Sage, of how they identify which agents need nerfing.

Traditionally, balance teams might go off win-rate when making judgements. However, given the high rate of mirror match-ups in Valorant, it’s harder to use this metric. If both teams pick Jett, one Jett will win and the other will lose, cancelling the data out.

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To get around this problem, the devs look at an agent’s win-rate WITHOUT a mirror match-up. So, if one team has Brimstone but the other doesn’t, it’s easier to tell if he’s OP, as the team with Brim might win far more matches.

Riot Games
During patch 1.02, in games where only one team had a Sage, the team with her had a 54.6% chance of winning.

As shown, since a team is much more likely to win if they have a Sage than if they don’t, the team decided to look into nerfing her. By 1.07, Sage had received a staggering 10 nerfs as devs desperately tried to balance her.

As a result of these changes, a recent survey showed 39% of players believe Sage to be too weak – more than any other agent.

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Identifying that an agent needs nerfing is one thing, but choosing how to nerf them is another. The devs listed these four different metrics when deciding how to go about nerfing agents:

  1. Direct feedback from you [the community] about why you believe Sage is strong, both in surveys and in direct conversations
  2. Breakouts of Agent strength by side (to understand how much of Sage’s strengths are pronounced on attack/defense)
  3. Breakout of Agent strength/presence by rank (to understand if there are discrepancies across skill brackets)
  4. Ability-specific data (average amount of healing Sage does in a round, round winrate when Sage uses her ultimate, compared to when other agents use their ultimate, etc.)
Graph showing pickrates of Valorant agents, patch 1.11Sage’s pickrate dropped from 90% to 52% between patches 1.02 and 1.11

By patch 1.11, Sage’s non-mirror win-rate had dropped by 2.4% to 52.2% – putting her in a “relatively healthy state,” according to the devs. But factors including new agents and maps, pro-play data, and public perception all affect whether an existing agent needs tweaks.

Nothing’s worse than getting aced by a Reyna. But you can at least take comfort in knowing the chances of her getting nerfed have gone up. Even if it’s only slightly.

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