VALORANT, much like other competitive games, requires careful fine-tuning of its mechanics to ensure that the game doesn’t confine itself to a single “meta”: a strategy that objectively provides a greater advantage than other ways to play the game.
However, in a game where players are constantly innovating to find the best way to win, this can be a daunting task. Developers sift through oceans of game data to see if there are any agents or weapons that are outperforming their peers, and over the long weekend, VALORANT Game Designer Nicholas Wu Smith teased the next meta to be taken down.
In a Twitch Q&A, Smith announced that the Stinger will likely be nerfed in the coming patches, saying that “range is something I’ve hopefully tuned properly for the Stinger.” With Patch 2.02 dramatically reducing the accuracy of rifles, players have turned to budget options like the Stinger, which offer a higher “run-and-gun” accuracy while remaining less effective at range overall.
This partially addresses concerns from prominent pro players such as 100Thieves’ “nitr0” and C9′s “meL” who have argued that the Stinger and the Frenzy, an automatic pistol you can buy for 400 credits, are too reliant on RNG and also focus too much on the “run-and-gun” mentality.
But at what point does a nerf stop being a gentle nudge to reduce the efficacy of a weapon and becomes an attempt to force a “correct” meta on the game?
If, say, the Stinger and other SMGs in the game were to suddenly be as inaccurate as rifles while moving and have both a shorter range and lower DPS, eco rounds would be practically impossible to win. Sure, these rounds are inherently more difficult and require innovative strategies from the team with the worse economy, but players are supposed to innovate around the small advantages these cheaper weapons offer over the more expensive rifles.
Should the Sheriff be nerfed because it is a sub-1000 credit way to get a one-shot kill? Should the Bucky lose its alt fire because it can compete against the twice as expensive Spectre at mid-range?
These weapons are designed to offer ways to overcome more well-equipped opponents without simply having the same range and damage, which force players to adapt to a new play style. Wu even addressed this in his Q&A, acknowledging that “generally speaking SMGs and the Frenzy are going to be better on the run than other weapons.”
If these guns lose those advantages, then the game essentially forces a meta on the game: cheap weapons can only be used in the first couple of rounds, and then it’s only rifles and snipers unless you throw a round and go for an eco buy.
While Wu confirmed that there are currently no plans to alter the running accuracy of SMGs, this upcoming update should serve as a precautionary tale of how game developers should trust their players to adapt to new metas, or risk falling into the very trap they hope to avoid.
Edit: Patch 2.03 was released on 02/17/21, and introduced price increases for the Stinger and Frenzy. Additionally, the Stinger has received nerfs to its recoil and range, but noticeably, running accuracy was not adjusted in this patch. Other notes include match abandonment penalties, changes to Reyna and Yoru, as well as a new game mode called Escalation.