Do Defenders have an advantage in Valorant?

By Carver FisherOctober 16, 2020
Do Defenders have an advantage in Valorant?
Valorant is, at its heart, a tactical shooter. Good mechanics go a long way, but, on a level playing field, the better mind usually wins. There’s a lot of thought that goes into playing Valorant. Map selection, weapon choice, economy, abilities, and a whole lot more factors into whether or not you win a firefight, and if your team pulls out a win.
However, there’s another layer to the complexity: Attack and Defense. Taking the same Agent and translating their strengths to Attacking when you’ve already been Defending for 12 rounds is difficult, and the inverse is true. That said, there appears to be an imbalance between the two sides. Statistically, Defending is easier by a notably large margin. Depending on the map, the discrepancy between the win/loss percentage is as much as 6% in favor of Defenders. This discrepancy could be chalked up to map balance, but there may be more to it than that. It’s possible that the Defender’s advantage is a side effect of Valorant’s core game design.

Communication Is Key

Valorant’s identity as a tactical shooter relies heavily on communication. While there’s a basic in-game ping system, high-level Valorant play requires voice comms. This may be the first hint as to why Defending can feel easier than Attacking.
Stats from casual play in Patch 1.09.
Stats from casual play in Patch 1.09.
In Unranked play, maps are almost even across the board. There’s some slight variation in win rate between Attacking and Defending, but nothing worth being skeptical about. However, drastic changes come when looking at Competitive games.
Stats from competitive play in Patch 1.09.
Stats from competitive play in Patch 1.09.
These stats encompass all competitive games; there are some differences in lower ranks, but Gold and up seem to maintain similar numbers to the ones above. Defenders are noticeably favored on every map other than Haven. Without getting into an article-length conversation about map design and balance, there’s one thing that Haven has over every other map in Valorant: Options. Three different bomb sites, multiple paths, and a complex network of corridors contribute to Haven’s comparatively good balance standing in comparison to Valorant’s other maps. The image below paints a picture of how much more open Haven is, and why that openness gives Attackers a diverse set of options.
Left
Left
There are a few Attacking strategies, but all of them are easily countered on any map that isn’t Haven. Rotating is an important part of Valorant, and quick rotations kill aggressive strategies like 5-man pushing one bomb site. Leaving the bomb in a central location and attacking from multiple angles is a common Attack strategy, but Defenders often have a positional advantage due to Attackers having a set path to a point. All this, and we haven’t even talked about Defenders flanking and getting aggressive. Attacking in Valorant can often feel like ramming your head into a brick wall. This can be alleviated by abilities, but Valorant’s many Agents have their own problems when it comes to Attacking.

Less Reactive, More Proactive

Abilities are a key part of Valorant. Every Agent has their own unique identity, and a slew of Agent-exclusive abilities to match. However, there aren’t many of these abilities that can be used in the heat of combat. The time to kill in Valorant is so quick that any abilities without immediate impact get swiftly punished.
Reyna and Jett are the only Agents in Valorant with abilities that feel usable in the middle of a firefight. Their kits are made to react to threats. However, neither of these Agents are weak Defenders. Reyna’s kit does suffer from being one-sided and snowball-dependent (despite having the highest pick rate in Valorant), but Jett’s balance is controversial in pro play due to how powerful her mobility is in the right hands. Here’s the thing: Most of Valorant’s abilities feel better on the Defending side, but there aren’t any Agents that have a distinct Attacking advantage that feels like a trade-off for weaker Defensive capabilities.
Stats from competitive play in Patch 1.09.
Stats from competitive play in Patch 1.09.
Valorant’s top five most-picked Agents are all pretty straightforward. For instance, explaining Sage to a new player isn’t very hard. You heal, you revive, and you create space for your team. Simple enough. If we go a bit down the pick rate list, someone like Cypher is much harder to play effectively. Figuring out where to place Spycams and Trapwires on Defense is already more complicated than playing someone like Sage, but it’s made even more difficult for a Cypher on Attack. To give an example, Trapwires are best placed where enemy Defenders seem to be flanking. Thing is, doing something like that requires the player to connect those dots.
To be clear, I’m not trying to say that Cypher is underpowered. He is, however, much easier to play on Defense. His abilities are occasionally good as an Attacker, whereas his abilities are always useful as a Defender. Agents like Viper, Killjoy, and Brimstone fall into this category in my opinion. If you main any of these Agents, that may be why Defending feels so much easier. Proactivity is a huge benefit in their kits, and Defending provides much more time to get everything set up and planned out.

How Problematic is a Defender’s Advantage?

As strange as this may sound, Defenders having a distinct advantage on most maps doesn’t seem like a huge problem. Considering that teams swap sides, both teams get to play with that slight Defender’s advantage. It still feels like the better team wins in Valorant, and that’s what matters most. Many of the Agents that specialize in Defense possess high win rates (looking at you, Killjoy), and Valorant’s high emphasis on mechanical skill offsets some of these issues. Is it a problem? Yes, but it’s not an overly pressing one. It’s possible that these win rates will get leveled out by new maps, balance changes, and new Agents. Although, a few adjustments to current maps would be welcome.
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