When Valorant was in beta, the community kept asking for one thing: some kind of deathmatch, or free-for-all mode so players could practice aim and warm-up against other humans. Instead, Riot released Spike Rush for Valorant‘s launch, a shortened format of the 5v5 competitive shooter that feels like the earliest days of Counter-Strike pub servers.
Valorant‘s default mode is a 5v5, search and destroy/terrorists vs counter-terrorists (or attackers vs defenders in Valorant‘s lore) affair. It’s the same bomb plant/defusal gameplay that’s been around since the earliest days of Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, and most people will have some familiarity with that.
Spike Rush is much the same, but with some key differences. It’s a much shorter experience: instead of the game being first to 13 rounds (with both teams switching sides after the first 12), Spike Rush is a first-to-four affair. The game’s money system is removed from the equation, with all players receiving the same weapon and access to all their abilities, as well as some extra ultimate charge. Player abilities normally have to be bought each round for between $100 to $300 a pop, so this concession automatically makes Spike Rush a great way to learn or practice new characters, as well as quickly getting to grips with angles and positions on a map.
You’re still playing the same characters and maps as you would a normal game, but there’s an extra carrot for casual players. Every round, a series of orbs lay scattered around the map. Some of these will give you a different weapon (and usually a decent one, like the one-shot kill Operator or the reliable Phantom/Vandal rifles). Others give you an instant ultimate, extra movement speed, increased damage, and some can apply a map-wide health decay that applies to all enemies — although if you don’t take advantage of it, the HP of those affected returns to normal soon enough.
Games of Spike Rush usually run between five and ten minutes depending on how close the games are. Because everyone’s weapons are fixed, the rounds generally play out a lot differently from a normal Valorant match. It’s hard to hold long sight lines when you’re stuck with a close-range shotgun that has two shots, after all. But you get some fascinating rounds: full pistol rounds with the Sheriff, Valorant‘s excellent equivalent of the Desert Eagle, or gun rounds where full teams are equipped with light machine spamming each other through walls.
the wallspam is also crazy generous and thoroughly entertaining pic.twitter.com/dinHMtTs0A
— Alex Walker (@dippizuka) June 3, 2020
But what’s just great is that most games of Valorant, Spike Rush or not, have this wonderful balance between players who know what they’re doing, and those who are still learning. On the surface, you’d think that it’d result in a hopelessly uneven experience, but a lot of the time the matches have balanced out. Most of the 40-ish games I’ve played over the last two days have ended up in overtime affairs – in Spike Rush or the regular unranked mode, since competitive play hasn’t been released yet – and everyone involved has had a great time.
As a friend who’s just learning Valorant and acquainting themselves with a CS-style shooter again put it to me: “Even losing is fun in Valorant.”
It also means, and especially in the more casual, frantic Spike Rush mode, that you get instances like this:
This game is deeply funny right now pic.twitter.com/fWtvK8yB0q
— Alex Walker (@dippizuka) June 3, 2020
Games like these remind me of what the very early days of Counter-Strike were like. Well before the 5v5 competitive scene was established, the earliest inklings of organised Counter-Strike were based around 6v6 teams. Instead of the current max rounds system, matches ran on a system called Charges Only, where teams were scored based on the amount of terrorist rounds they won over a fixed time period. (It’s worth noting that the bomb defusal mode, which Counter-Strike is known for, wasn’t originally part of the game. It was only added from Beta 4 onwards, with the primary gameplay mode being hostage rescue maps.)
But most people just played Counter-Strike by jumping into a massive public server, where you’d get chaotic matches of 10, 12 or 14 people screwing up grenades, getting booted from the server for accidentally team killing, and just generally being a nuisance. It was a time when people were happy to see maps like de_prodigy and de_aztec, largely because they were smaller and better designed than some of the other offerings, including de_foption, the only Counter-Strike map to feature three bomb sites.
The days of that unorganised, happy chaos is what I’m getting from games of Spike Rush and it’s great. It won’t always be like this, as people will eventually work out how all the characters and abilities work, and so some of the shine will wear off a little bit.
But for now, these quick five to ten minute matches are reminiscent of the days of giant CRTs, bags of chips, bottles of Coke and Sprite and dodgy Bunnings tables at a university hall. Nobody asked Riot to develop Spike Rush, but it’s an excellent addition to the game, especially for those just jumping in for the first time.