A pocket guide to Valorant economy (updated for 2021)

Joseph Edwards
9 min readAug 30, 2021

Back just after beta, I wrote an economy guide for Valorant. (I mostly wrote about the first few months of competitive Valorant on here, but there’s one or two theory pieces prior to those early tournaments).

It’s one of the few pieces on this Medium that’s still pretty consistently trafficked because of search engine SEO, and I’ve gotten a couple of requests about using material etc. from it recently, which I feel bad about because:

1) I didn’t see the requests until weeks afterwards, because Twitter DMs are annoying.
2) It’s not very good.

It’s unnecessarily convoluted, and while I don’t use this Medium much at the moment, I figured I’d rewrite it a little for current year. Not much has changed (though there are a couple of things that are different, e.g. lower-level guns and the Operator were slightly differently-priced when I wrote it), but might as well bring it up to code.

There is one key number you need to learn — 3900.

3900 is the cost of a Phantom or Vandal (i.e. rifles, the do-it-all guns, the AK/M4 equivalents, whatever) and Heavy Shields, as it has been since beta. Therefore, it’s the baseline cost of a ‘full buy’. Yes, you have to buy abilities on top of that — a full buy will be between 450 (Astra) and 900 (Jett) per agent , with most at about 600–700 — but you can have abilities saved up for a round potentially, or you can run without a Brim molly or whatever; you’re always going to have to buy the gun and the shields.

Therefore: if you’re going to have 3900 in the tank next round, you’re going to be able to buy rifles and shields, and as a team are hence in peak fighting condition. How do you know if you’re going to have 3900? The buy screen will tell you; but, to go into a little more detail, this hinges on round bonuses. Every player on your team gets the following after each round:

3000: on a win.
1900: on a loss if you won the previous round.
2400: on a loss if you lost the previous round.
2900: on a loss if you lost multiple previous rounds.

Additionally, you get 200 for each kill, and the whole team gets 300 for planting the spike.

How does this apply in practice? Let’s go round-by-round.

Pistol round
Spend as much as you can on the pistol round.

Why? You start with 800. 800 plus the bonus for a round win (3000) = you’ll have 3800 for round 2. Notice that it’s 100 short of that 3900 number. Yes, kill money could put you up to 4000 or more, and a plant would get you to 4100; but you’d be extremely thin on abilities at that point, and you’d have massive problems going into both rounds 3 and 4 if you then bought and lost (more on that later).

The only time outside of very high-level play that it’s worth considering saving money on pistols is if you’re going all-in on getting an Operator on round 3; 800 + 1900 + 2400 = a guaranteed 5100, which is enough for an Op and Light Shields (and you’ll probably be able to get Heavy). That in itself is high-risk, since you’re handing the enemy team an Operator they probably wouldn’t otherwise have if you lose that round, which can be very difficult to come back from; but it is an option.

In terms of what to buy, generally, you’re picking up one of a Ghost (500) or Light Shields (400), and abilities for the rest. Either is fine; the Ghost one-shots anyone without shields on a headshot at 30m or lower, while Shields + Classic can survive the Ghost headshot (and the Classic one-shots at close range with right-click) but can do very little at range, so it’s mostly a question of positioning and preference. Sheriff (800) and no abilities is also a common (albeit greedy) option, with the Frenzy and Shorty being rarer.

Round 2 — after a win
You’ll have 3000 and change. This is the place where newer players tend to mess up; they see their bank, see that they can’t get a Phantom/Vandal, and so they choose to buy basically nothing and treat it as a second pistol.

Of course, if you won that second round with pistols, you’d be in a great spot; you’d take nearly 6000 into round 3! Furthermore, if you lose, you’re on at worst even footing, right? Both teams have 4900 over the last two rounds (3000 + 1900) after all, and there’s a decent chance that the other team themselves bought if they won that second round.

However, there’s a couple of problems there. First: you are ultimately giving up a round; if you get lucky and they also save AND you win, great, but it’s generally accepted that you have very poor odds if the other team buys with pistols.

To touch on pro play again, the rate for all round-2s at the most recent EMEA Challengers playoffs was 104–15 for the winning team winning again, and at a glance, the majority of those 15 losses were force-buys by the losing team; yes, anything can happen in ranked games, but it’s always better to assume the best with practices like this. (I don’t have the data to hand, but I would guess that it’s still at least 70–75% in most elos for the buying team to win the round against pistols, and even higher if none of those pistols are Sheriffs).

Secondly, and more importantly: if you win that round after they bought, they are in massive, massive trouble. To put together a decent buy, they will generally have had to spend down to close to 0; they’ll get 2400 for their second loss, so they’re going to have to save on round 3 (if they don’t — they’ll have 2900 for round 4, and at that point, you’re likely to have 3000+ banked across the board even after buying any weapons).

Yes, it means that they’ll have Phantoms/Vandals round 3 against your Spectres etc. That’s fine. The received wisdom in pro play is that you don’t really care if you lose round 3 at that point; you’ll have 3000 + 1900 = 4900 going into round 4, which will often get you two full buys (more on that later).

Round 2 — after a loss
If you lose round 1, you’re generally going to save as much as possible on round 2 so that you can get your Phantom/Vandal on round 3. 1900 + 2400 = 4300; you will always be able to get rifle/shields/most of your abilities, and therefore be on equal or better standing than your opponents.

You do have the option of force-buying; that is, you take your round-1 loss bonus (1900), you buy whatever you can get (the lowered price on several weapons as of patch 3.0 makes these buys stronger than they used to), and you aim to beat the enemy team. Why would you do this? Well, if you win, they’re in trouble; they’re then in the same boat as you next round re: either having to try to buy with 1900 or save up.

Force buys are also good if you’re really, really confident that you and/or your teammates are going to be able to abuse the Operator; at 4700, the Operator generally isn’t in play early on most of the time, but if you force-buy, lose, and save round 3, you’ll get 2400 + 2900 = 5300 by round 4, which with kill gold should get you the Operator and shields if you left a little in the tank on round 3.

The downside is, as mentioned before, you pretty much have to forfeit the next round if you lose. The key thing to understand is this: the strongest ‘force-buy’ baseline purchase, i.e. analoguous to the rifle/shields 3900, is Spectre and Heavy Shields. That costs 2600.

The largest loss bonus is 2900. So, in effect, if you buy Spectre and Heavy Shields (and no abilities), run in, and lose again, you basically have a surplus of +300 compared to what you have now next round. In other words, you’re very rarely going to be able to buy a Phantom the round after you bought a Spectre; you can’t spend your way into it.

Forcing is risky, but I will say that, in ranked etc., it’s far, far better to force as the losing team than to save as the winning team (especially if you’re seeing enemy teams save as winner on round 2 a lot); in fact, unless you are terrible with Spectres, forcing is going to be a net positive game quite often. But if you’re starting out — and this is written mostly under the assumption that the reader is just starting out — you’re just going to want to watch what your teammates do on round 2.

Round 3
Round 3 is generally called the ‘bonus round’ in pro play. If we assume that the same team won both rounds 1 and 2, the winning team should have mostly Spectres etc. and a decent bit of cash (3000 round win), and the losing team should have 4300+ in cash and hence can buy rifles.

If you’re on the winning side here: do NOT buy. Your bank across the board will be set so that, if you lose round 3, you will all be able to full-buy round 4; a lot of the time, you’ll be able to full-buy again if you lose round 4 and go onto round 5. If you died in the previous round, buy something, but make sure that your cash at the start of the round is about the same as the rest of your team’s; you want to be in sync with them.

If you’re on the losing side: buy up. You will usually have better guns than the opposing team, and while it’s not going to be the same level of odds as Spectres vs. pistols, Phantoms/Vandals vs. Spectres should have very good odds of winning that round. (Don’t worry about saving anything for round 4; the rifle and shields are already going to almost completely tap you out, so it’s very unlikely that your team across the board will be able to save enough to do anything but save again if you go down to 0–3 anyway).

Further rounds
In general, your level of buying should mostly be dictated by what your teammates are spending down to. The vast majority of your money is coming from round win or round loss bonuses; hence, if you’re all on roughly the same sort of money, you should all be able to buy, and have to save, at the same time. Keep an eye on it on the scoreboard in the first few seconds of every round.

The buy screen will always tell you the minimum money you’ll have next round. 3900 is the key figure here; 5400 is another to keep an eye out for (if you see 5400, it means that you’ll be guaranteed to be able to buy for the next two rounds).

There’s details of some of the more esoteric mathematics of tracking your buys in the old article; none of that’s really changed in the last 18 months, but I’ve also found that people tend to struggle to get their heads around it, so I wouldn’t worry about it starting out.

The short version is: if you keep losing, you’ll get a maximum of 2900 each round. Rifle + shields is 3900. So

  • every ~1500–2000 extra in the bank you save on a winning streak is another buy round,
  • if you’re on a big losing streak, make sure that you’re spending less than 1900 each other round so that you can at least get a full buy every alternating round (rifle -> small buy -> rifle -> small buy -> etc.)
  • When to buy Light Shields? The main thing that the +25 on Heavy Shields does is allow you to take an extra shot from a rifle (e.g. a Phantom at 30+ m, body shots: 3 shots = 105 damage, 4 shots = 140 damage. A close-range Phantom or Vandal will kill you in 4 hits through HS, but then they can hit a leg instead of the body…calculation-wise, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but you end up surviving an extra shot enough of the time for it to matter).
  • You always want Heavy Shields against rifles. If you’re expecting them to have pistols, Marshal, Spectre, etc., it can be worth saving the 600 by getting Light Shields (only one gun does between 125 and 150 on a single shot — the Phantom at 30+ metres. The Ghost does 105, the Marshal does 101 on a body shot, etc.).

Closing notes
As with the last couple, this is aimed as a pretty basic guide for those getting into Valorant and who want to play without getting yelled at by all of their teammates at once. Yes, I know there’s funky stuff you can do with pistol saves. Yes, I know you can be that guy who picks up Marshals on round-2. Yes, I know you can be the Spectre-Only Player.

There are things you can do here that are going to work out for you, and there are things you can do in coordinated play that are going to work out for your team. However, to do that in a way that works out, you have to know how the system works in the first place. The above is how it basically works.

Remember: 3900. That’s the key number.



Joseph Edwards

i wear a lot of hats. crypto: Head of Research for Enigma Securities (Bloomberg: NH ENI). esports: coach, LoL 2x LCS champ (TSM 17 TL 18), now Valorant w/ HONK