Valorant, a game that’s not out yet and that most people can’t play, currently has 1.6 million concurrent viewers on Twitch, putting it within spitting distance of the all-time record.
The new game from League of Legends (and only League of Legends, until now) developer Riot Games mashes up Counter-Strike-style tactical shooting with hero powers that give off a whiff of Overwatch. Today, the game enters its much-hyped closed beta, opening the floodgates by just a hair, but still enough that everybody and their entire familial lineage is trying to squeeze through.
The current record holders for most concurrent views on Twitch are Fortnite and League of Legends, both with 1.7 million. Fortnite’s historic peak occurred during its Chapter Two-heralding black hole event, in which the battle royale kingpin’s entire map was swallowed by a black hole. It was, as far as massively popular multiplayer games go, an unprecedented moment. Developer Epic decided to bulldoze everything it had built in a grand, gleefully destructive spectacle. People gathered to watch because they wanted to know what was coming next. It may have ultimately been a disguise for an update, but it was a clever one. League of Legends, meanwhile, hit its highest height during last year’s World Championship, the game’s biggest annual esports event.
Valorant’s Twitch success is a bit more precedented. Last week, the game amassed more than one million concurrent viewers on Twitch with a big gameplay reveal that Riot coordinated with every popular streamer under the sun: TimTheTatman, xQc, Summit1g, DrLupo, Myth, Pokimane—the list goes on. These streamers were offering drops, aka beta keys, to lucky viewers. Streamers were, as is industry standard, likely paid to promote the game. [Update: 2:00 PM: A Riot source tells Kotaku that the company actually did not pay any influencers for coverage. Instead, it opted to invite streamers to an online event and coordinate gameplay and interviews with them based on previously expressed interest in the game.] Riot was canny in how it allowed streamers to roll out content last week, too, keeping certain footage locked until later in the day and having streamers conduct interviews with Riot staff until late in the evening. As a result, Valorant had a vice grip on Twitch all day long. All this during a time when people are stuck at home weathering a relatively light spring for games, looking for something new to entertain them.
Today, Riot and all the same streamers are once again handing out keys, only this time, the game is actually playable now that the beta has launched. It makes sense, then, that people are arriving in rabid droves. Effectively, though, Riot has gamed the system, making it look like Valorant is the next big Twitch sensation—the game everybody’s crowding around their computer screens to watch—when in fact it’s the game for which everybody wants beta keys. It remains to be seen if a more rigidly structured game like Valorant can usurp the likes of Fortnite or even Riot’s own League of Legends on Twitch, though Counter-Strike’s perennial place near the top bodes well for its chances. Right now, for example, Counter-Strike has 218,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch, though that’s in part due to the fact that it’s the only major game whose esports scene continues to broadcast from studios during the pandemic. On Steam, meanwhile, the game has spent 2020 repeatedly breaking its own records, most recently peaking at an all-time high of 1,228,875 concurrent players over the weekend.
Valorant also has powerful industry entities on its side. Riot is one of the biggest companies out there, but popular streamers and the financially unstable esports industry eternally clamor for fresh meat, and those two sides of the game-o-sphere are also doing their best to will Valorant into being the next game to spark off a Fortnite-like boom. It is, after all, a lucrative prospect for all involved. In the months since Valorant was announced under its codename, Project A, I’ve seen multiple people with some variation on “Valorant/Project A pro” or “caster” in their social media bios. Some of these people still cannot play the game.
Valorant is big now, and as a result of all this hyper-calculated hype, many people are legitimately excited about it. It might get bigger in the coming weeks, months, and years, or it might wind up a partially-fabricated flash in the pan. So far, Riot has played the streaming ecosystem like a fiddle, reading from a music sheet employed by many big companies before it. Now, though, it’s the game’s turn to perform.
Update 2:00 PM: Valorant has now repeatedly hit, but not exceeded, 1.7 million concurrent viewers.