Ever since Valorant was first announced, players have been rightly wondering when another healer would arrive to balance out the resurrecting, ice-wall erecting power of Sage. Last week, the community had their answer: Skye, an eco-warrior with a thick, ocker accent.
To understand how Skye came about, I sat down for a chat with Valorant‘s senior game designer Max Grossman to understand more.
When Skye was first coming together, her codename was “Guide”, according to Grossman. “It was centered around this idea of guiding your team into battle, that was the core idea of the character,” he said.
Skye’s name, background, bogan accent wasn’t in place at that point. Instead, Skye was being built around the idea of a character that could act as an initiator, empowering a team to move forward.
Internally, the first version of Skye came to life around November 2019, Grossman said. She was in development because the Valorant team always understood the need for an extra healer to balance out the necessity of Sage (as the sole healer in the hero shooter’s roster), but also because the game needed an extra initiator.
“It was very much part of the plan when we launched the game, we know there’s going to be a need for an additional healer, and we knew there was going to be a need for an additional initiator,” Grossman said. “We tend to think about the game mostly from the context of our role framework, the initiators, duellists, controllers and sentinels. And we knew that we were launching with only two initiators, and we wanted to have a third one. That said, we also look at the different things people bring to the table — healing is obviously one of them.”
“But that tends to be their secondary or tertiary thing that they’re really bringing to the plate: we think of Sage mostly as being able to stop people from aggressing and holding people back. Whereas Skye is kind of a different take on that: we wanted to do another initiator so we can have a third one in that slot, and we also thought it would be a valuable spot to add this healing component to her, to kind of round out that choice competition between a defensive oriented healer and more of an offensive oriented healer.”
Skye’s heal is a massive AOE, with one huge caveat: it doesn’t heal herself, and you can’t fire or use other abilities while it’s triggering (unlike Sage’s healing orb). Trailblazer, her Q ability, summons a Tasmanian tiger that hunts down enemies, nearsighting and concussing them when it hits. Enemies can destroy the tiger by shooting at it, the same way you would Reyna’s orb or Killjoy’s turret.
Guiding Light is a hawk — inspired by the brown goshawk, Grossman said — that blinds enemies when activated. The hawk curves with your crosshair, just like Phoenix’s flash or Jett’s smokes, but it will fly much further and higher — making it possible to through high flashes above walls or through windows, as seen in the trailer below. Like the Tasmanian tiger, enemies can shoot the hawk down before activation.
Skye’s final ability summons three wolves that hunt down nearby enemies, applying nearsight on contact. The effect last around four seconds, but unlike the hunters powerup in Spike Rush, your fire rate and movement won’t be restricted if you get hit by one of the wolves.
The wolves can climb over walls, and you get an icon on the minimap for each of the wolves. It’s a great recon ability even if the wolves are shot down — the time it takes an enemy to respond can remove their opportunity to cast other flashbangs, orbs or abilities to stall a rush, not to mention how it immediately gives away their position.
Because of this, Riot’s expecting that Skye will get a huge amount of play at higher levels. Teams — particularly professional ones — have already started to mess around with compositions relying less on Sage, just to have a bit more utility on maps where it’s harder to attack. Sage is still an insta-pick for the majority of teams, however, particularly given how game-changing a solid resurrection can be.
Skye’s abilities were fairly locked in from her initial playtest, according to Grossman, which can be rare given how difficult it can be to nail a hero’s abilities down. “Probably the biggest points of feedback iteration were actually around the guiding light ability, the hawk she can control, and her ultimate seekers. Trying to refine the play patterns around those took a lot of iteration to find what level of control, what debuff and what types of counterplay could exist.”
“But she was not a tumultuous agent — we got pretty lucky with that one,” Grossman said.
When the abilities were locked down, work began on identifying Skye’s background. Grossman explained that the idea of Skye being a naturalist was locked in fairly early on, with the summoning of animals. The first version of the character was all based around wolves: Skye was able to control a wolf, summon a pack of wolves, and so on.
From there, the team began started thinking about a character that was around the wild and animals, which spawned the idea of a character battling for the environment and the natural order. Sadly, nobody on the Valorant team proposed the idea of having Skye spawn a flock of swooping magpies instead.
Much of Skye’s lore isn’t set in stone, so some key parts of Skye’s background aren’t fleshed out. She’s described as an Australian eco-warrior, but what part of Australia she’s from. Grossman also couldn’t talk about whether we’d see Skye featured in a hero cinematic outlining her backstory and relationship to the Valorant world, similar to the video Jett and Phoenix received on launch.
The main focus for the Valorant team at this stage is more around identifying where Skye fits within the metagame, and to that point Grossman said the Australian agent would scale “almost more than any other teammate on the roster” with skill level.
Her initiation abilities should also help overcome problems other agents have had at lower levels. Breach is a good example: the character’s flashbangs and toolkit is extraordinarily useful offensively and when retaking a bombsite. But many of the abilities are difficult for Breach himself to follow up on given their activation timings and range, and so Breach doesn’t see as much play at lower levels compared to characters that are a little more self-sufficient.
Grossman still expects Skye will be more favoured among teams and groups of friends, although her initiation capacities and AOE heal should make her more versatile for those playing solo. “Guiding Light is a very high skill cap ability because you can control the flash anywhere you want, and it can still be shot, so you have to work it in this really specific place,” Grossman added.
“So trying to position it in a spot that blinds your enemies but doesn’t blind your allies, and can’t be shot but doesn’t give them time to react. So there’s a ton of nuance with how you position and place this ability, which is something I think a lot of higher level teams will have fun trying to extract and optimise how to use it.”
That timing will be a crucial element of how Skye is balanced against the existing roster, going forward. Grossman explained that the team — and how the developers see different heroes fitting into the roster — often balances abilities around the idea of time. Those windows are often incredibly small, because the developers have to factor in the minimum amount of time players need to react — but also the amount of time lost due to pings and input/rendering lag.
“I’ve never thought a second was as long as it was until I started working on Valorant,” Grossman said. One example given was the difficulties around Breach’s flash. During prototyping, the activation time for the flashbang was too quick for most humans to functionally react to.
“The windup time, before it pops, the timing that we’re playing with is in the realm of, ‘What is possible for humans to react to?’,” Grossman said.
“If you go past, point 0.24 seconds, humans are unable to react to. But if it’s 0.5 seconds, most high level players turn from the flash 100 per cent of the time. It becomes a completely useless ability that actually doesn’t do anything, because people just turn it, turn back and then shoot you as you’re peeking. So our wriggle room is 2/10ths of a second — that’s how we can balance this ability, 2/10ths of a second. And then you start factoring in ping and lag.”
Skye will be added to Valorant officially from October 27 internationally. She arrives as part of the game’s Act 3 update, which includes a new map, Skybox. That’ll be added to Valorant‘s unranked modes from October 13, with Skybox available in ranked play from October 27.
Other additions to the game from October 13 include rank outcomes for Immortal players being only affected by wins and losses, the ability to choose your preferred server, fewer tiers in the ranked queue for better matchmaking results, and a new set of weapon skins and battlepass.