Economy in VALORANT is very deliberately and specifically designed around the two main ‘rifles’ — the Vandal and the Phantom, both priced at 2900 credits. This is the same as in certain similar games, and the reason for this is because the rifles are designed so that, with perfect play, you should always be able to win a duel against any other rifle (because you can headshot through shields with a single bullet); there are of course caveats to that, but the general idea is that any other gun has drawbacks compared to it — although, in turn, that gun is in most cases cheaper and/or has some upsides that the rifle doesn’t.
Hence, the two rifles are a major part of the basic tapestry of VALORANT. Alongside them are the Operator (the one-hit sniper rifle balanced by its price and need to be scoped), the Spectre (a sub-machine gun that’s the best reliably available on a round 2 budget), and pistols. The remaining guns fall into this odd niche where most of them are useable, but have to be bought and employed with a very specific plan; they can’t do it all.
If you’re reading this article, you almost certainly know all of that, but I have to stick that in there so the automatic description thing on links doesn’t look stupid. Anyway, long story short: I was curious about how the actual numbers would break down on this, THESPIKE has a timeline feature, I had time before scrims, here we are.
The criteria: any round start and/or kill with any of the following eight guns:
You could argue that the Shorty and Frenzy probably belong here in spirit with both only really being bought on weird little ecos rather than pistols, which is a fair argument, but I didn’t track them, so there you go.
To start out: there were 147 kills across 238 rounds for these guns, equating to a KPR of 0.62 (against 0.71 on all kills), which is what we’d expect; these are designed to be less effective, and a lot of these buys are in situations where the buying team is doing all they can to eke out a buy on low money.
This broke down per-gun as follows:
Let’s talk about them.
The non-viables: Stinger, Bucky, Ares
Three guns were used for just a handful of rounds, and often almost exclusively by one player.
The Stinger was a fixture of competitive play back in 2020 — it was the key to an effective round-2 forces, and a few players (SUMN/Fnatic Sentinel player Konstantinos “tsack” Theodoropoulos was probably most notable in Europe for this) incorporated it in ecos and low-buys — its fire rate and spray meant that it would reliably kill at least one at short range, and even if traded off wouldn’t give up anything of value to the opposing team. Spray changes in 2.03 removed that reliability, and even with its drop from 1100 to 950 credits, only one player — Nathan “leaf” Ong of Cloud9 — found any use for it, most notably grabbing a couple of kills with it on a designed Stinger/Frenzy semi-eco site push on Bind against an on-site defense from Liquid.
The Bucky had an even briefer moment in the sun, mostly in pugs (hello, Ivan “ALLIN” Yukin) and mostly due to its alt-fire (it was a guaranteed headshot kill at a very, very specific range that could be exploited on a couple of maps, notably Ascent B def); in this tournament, Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin took it up for a single round and got a single kill playing off it and Viper orb on Breeze B def. It’s ultimately too slow to ever get multiple kills, and if one is looking for a single shotgun kill, the Shorty basically does the same thing at the same ranges at this point.
The Ares is an interesting one, because as a much, much cheaper Odin, it feels like it should find use; in practice, it just isn’t used, perhaps because of the fire rate (10 rounds/second against 15.6 for the Odin) and damage meaning that it fails to really have the area denial or kill potential that the Odin does. Santeri “BONECOLD” Sassi got a couple of kills with it in the final, although it’s worth noting that both those kills came essentially from just using it as a regular rifle (after a couple of speculative wallbang shots on B and A heaven).
I legitimately forgot to write about the Odin on the first draft of this piece, because it’s a very, very boring gun. “Gun that fires very fast but can barely be aimed” is an idea with a lot of antecedents, and all of those antecedents have generally been never viable at any point ever in any sort of organised play, particularly because you always price a gun like that above the regular rifles (for the sake of people playing at Elos where nobody can aim anyway)
The Odin is viable, but it’s literally in one specific situation. The wall on Ascent B defense is very thin, and the route into lobby is linear. Therefore, if you fire through the wall, and there’s somebody in there, they generally will die.
That’s it. I don’t think a single onen of those Odin games came off Ascent. Pro teams are generally not stupid enough to actually get hit on the B trap, but you take the Odin anyway just for the threat of it. The one big Odin play by KRU’s Roberto “Mazino” Rivas, taking advantage of the one other thing it’s good for (destroying Sage wall), was admittedly nice:
Still: not all that exciting. Maybe some day a map will have destructible terrain of the sort that would make the Odin a more regular pickup.
This one was partially the reason that I wanted to look at this. If you’ve been involved in EU VALORANT in any form, you’ve probably at some point come across Travis “L1NK” Mendoza’s reputation with this gun. Him and James “Kryptix” Affleck were arguably the leading pioneers with respects to how they played tight positions with otherwise underutilised weapons during the First Strike era, and even as the game’s massively matured, L1NK’s held onto that reputation.
My question was whether L1NK would hence be the #1 user of an ‘off-beat’ weapon here, given that he has such a reputation and TL played two serieses. The answer: he actually falls a little short, but the reputation overall is deserved. 18% of his kills in his two Bo3s came from the Judge, and if I’m remembering correctly, all from Bind (it’s specifically his play around B hookah where it’s most renowned).
The odd part is that he got those kills despite both C9 and Acend playing in a way where they clearly understood and respected the threat he had there; in fact, in both games, his kills were concentrated into a couple of rounds, most notably the back-breaking 3k at 11–10 against C9.
The dimension that L1NK has given TL on Bind defense has been a big asset for them over the last couple of months; it’ll be interesting to see what happens as more and more scrutiny is put on it.
A few other players had their moments here and there with the Judge — zeek and starxo in particular — but an unfortunate shoutout here has to go to C9 duo Mitch “mitch” Semago and Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, who went 8 rounds without a kill with it against TL. That’s not an entirely negative thing in some sense, because I think it does speak to an often-overlooked thing about C9 at Champions: they were by far the best-prepped of the NA teams, and even if they struggled to execute in the end, they showed a far stronger framework for long-term success than the other NA teams did. In the case of the Judge, they did the homework, saw why it was good and how it could be used, and just failed to execute.
The Judge is definitely a very situational thing outside of Bind, but it’s arguably the strongest ‘off’ gun at this point, probably because it’s the only one where you can reliably get multiple kills without having to physically reposition and take long fights; it does require extremely strong movement (something that’s still very lacking among a lot of players in VALORANT even at the top-level), but there may be even more breakthrough potential than we saw at this tournament, particularly on Split.
Bulldog and Guardian
The other half of the reason that I went to look through this was: how useful are the Bulldog and Guardian in practice, and how actively prevalent are they? The numbers on the Bulldog are grim, although that’s honestly a higher round-count than I expected; it really just does feel like the gun has no real niche. The scoped burst just doesn’t win duels ever, and it’s just worse as a rifle than a Spectre. The one big Bulldog play, by leaf against TL on Bind (again), could absolutely have been done with a Spectre.
The Guardian, however, actually does have a natural niche because of its combination of wallpen and a 195-damage headshot, and in fact, while L1NK wasn’t the number-1 user of an ‘off’ gun, it was a Liquid member who did so — Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom, who picked up 14 kills across 10 buys on the Guardian for a total of 22.6% of his kills.
The use of it is actually quite intelligent — Liquid tend to use it in positions where they’re just holding a pixel anyway and therefore don’t have to care about spray. A lot of these are around areas like Split A; notice on the data that there’s an entry where L1NK buys the Guardian 0 times and gets 1 kill. I initially thought this was going to be ScreaM handing off a position to L1NK; that’s actually not the case here (they’re attacking A site and ScreaM dies early on an half-buy), but I have seen actual handoffs in previous Liquid VoDs.
Is the Guardian under-bought by teams? Eh. There were other teams who also made pretty good use of it (look at Gambit), but there were also a lot of 1R0K/2R0K entries for it too. It’s definitely powerful, and teams should probably be looking to incorporate it more regularly into their buys, but even with more regular use, it does seem to require a certain sort of player to pull off (and it should be said that VALORANT as a game doesn’t reward headshot specialists as much as other games did); perhaps Felix “al0rante” Brandl and the entire nation of Turkey should both take note.
Finally, the Marshal. It’s easy to forget that there was a long time in which the Marshal just wasn’t used — an one-hit headshot at range was nice, but the Sheriff did that for slightly less and with better mobility, after all; and the body shot couldn’t go through even light shields, so what use was it?
It should be said that there almost certainly is a degree to which the Marshal now is elevated by the fact that teams go Sheriffs and no shields on ecos. Still — at its lower cost, it’s clearly found a niche. Note, however, that it’s actually got a relatively low KPR (albeit in an area that’s just statistical noise with these round/kill counts), and would be far lower if not for one person — Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek, who got an incredible 15 kills on 10 rounds purchased, including multiple 3+Ks — the attack Marshal vs. Team Secret on Breeze is a particular favourite.
This is yet another thing that speaks to how surprisingly underappreciated cNed’s skillset is in some ways (yes, even now), but it also makes one wonder about whether there’s going to be an evolution against the Marshal in the coming future. It does feel like the only reason that it works so well is because of unshielded players jumping into essentially a meat grinder; if the meta for ecos shifts towards incorporating light shields, it becomes a lot less attractive against just e.g. holding long-range with a Sheriff yourself. If Sheriffs themselves get nerfs, that further ups the ante on incorporating light shields, which may make Marshals themselves worse. Or, it could make them better, as the only option for playing that sort of range. Something to keep in mind overall.
Here’s the overall totals:
Don’t think there’s a spectacular amount meta-wise to be read into all of this, especially not statistically; these are tiny samples at the end of the day, and this is mostly to satisfy some curiosities I had about how a couple of players checked out in that regard. There are some interesting small stories to be seen throughout though.