Deep Dive Into 4.04 Controller Agents Changes
Greetings all, I’m Jay Watford, Lead Agent Designer on VALORANT, and I’ve assembled a handful of Agent designers to talk through our high level approach to the Controller update that went out in 4.04 and breakdown the individual changes for the affected Agents: Brimstone, Omen, Astra, and Viper.
Join me, Kevin Meier and Alexander Mistakidis as we lay out all the context that we want to share about our Controllers, so let’s jump right in!
THE CONTROLLER ROLE
To start, it might be helpful to share a shorthand we use internally to group some Controllers together. We call Brimstone, Omen and Astra the “Dome Smokers,” and these three tend to come up together in conversation.
Viper’s Smoke Screen often puts her in her own category of discussion since her main source for cover is less interchangeable than the other Controllers. Because her changes are more internal, we’ll discuss Viper in her dedicated section below.
When looking at the Dome Smokers, we had two goals that drove our path forward. One of these goals is data driven, the other is rooted in design philosophy.
- When it comes to data, these three are pretty healthy in both win rate and presence until you get into higher MMRs, where Astra’s presence becomes dominant. In Pro Play, Astra’s stranglehold becomes far more pronounced and crowds out the other Dome Smokers on every map. We want to drive more choice competition and diversity in coordinated play and unlock teams to adopt different play styles and methods, which leads us to our design philosophy.
- One of our driving philosophies for Agents is that they are sharp, meaning they provide clear strengths and weaknesses while unlocking distinct strategic possibilities. We felt like the Dome Smokers were really struggling here. Omen and Brimstone's strengths felt unpronounced, and Astra seemed capable of replicating everything they brought to the table. For 4.04, we tried to define and sharpen the play patterns that each Agent should individually excel at, and give them all a reason to be picked or left behind.
Here’s a look at each Controller through this lens:
Not only did we seek to sharpen our old dog Brimstone’s identity within the roster, we wanted to define clearer strengths for his weaknesses: a limited smoke range and number of smokes. Our intent was to make quality of life changes while doubling down on play styles that help Brimstone execute in the moment with his team. Our goal with Brimstone’s identity is to be a Controller option for players who prefer to quickly execute and surprise the enemy team.
Our hope is that the improvements to his smoke ability will elevate Brimstone’s competition in terms of Dome Smoke output when compared to other Controllers. We’ve tied this into Stim Beacon changes (adding a small speed boost with rapidfire), which should give Brimstone a means to give his team a clear signal that it’s time to get going. This should hopefully make the Stim Beacon less situational so that Brimstone’s strengths can show every round. His old knees are gonna kill after this though!
As strategic diversity within the Controller role evolved in the past year, Omen was found hiding the shadows—but we see him! Our intent is to carve out a niche for Omen amongst the Controllers that better emphasizes his strengths, and on the flipside, limiting the weaknesses that were cumbersome for allies to play around.
When looking at the comparable dome smokes, the obvious drawback for Omen is his lack of burst and inability to block out multiple angles instantly. We believe this is a healthy weakness, but it’s exaggerated and hard to play off as an ally. When compared to others, Omen spends a generous amount of time deploying multiple smokes, waiting for the travel time, and then waiting for them to settle.
We’ve paired increased projectile speed and reduced cooldown to sharpen Omen into a high frequency dome smoker—someone that is capable of delivering pressure and misdirection throughout a round, while still trading off the burst efficacy that Astra and Brimstone are capable of.
The remainder of Omen’s kit is more combat focused than other Controllers, a strength worth emphasizing and bringing some quality of life to. Moving Paranoia’s spawn forward should reduce instances of blinding adjacent allies, and shorter Shrouded Step timings are more in line with comparable movement abilities in VALORANT.
We don’t want Omen moving around like Jett, but this will enable him to be a bit more elusive.
Then there is the celestially large elephant in Controller space: Astra. As players have mastered her, the abundance and flexibility of her utility has crowded out the other Controllers, allowing her to capture most of their strengths and magnifying them through the unrestricted reach of her utility.
The ability to place utility practically everywhere on the map has been a keystone of Astra’s identity within the roster, but many of the weaknesses that we thought might provide balance haven't materialized. Instead of relying on being a step ahead with smart Star placement and utility use, her abundance allowed her to simply place Stars everywhere and leverage her short cooldowns to make up for incorrect calls.
In order to create healthy space for our other Dome Smokers, Astra needs to cede ground.
At the heart of our attempt to create a clear downside is to reduce her Stars from five to four. We think this not only reduces her total utility output, but also creates clear and impactful decision points. If she chooses to execute with all four pieces of utility, she now completely gasses out and lacks a post-plant star. Pre-placed Stars can no longer double up and cover every choke across most maps. And if she does try to blanket them, she’ll have to contend with longer cooldowns to try and react to the actual point of attack.
Longer cooldowns across the board should magnify the importance of each utility call she makes while creating clearer windows for opponents to work around. Our hope is these nerfs allow Astra to have the map-wide influence that makes her unique but defines areas where other Controllers can outshine her.
Although our updates on the other Controllers feel like a very connected ecosystem, Viper—as she’d prefer it—stands far more in isolation.
Viper’s Smoke Screen and Toxic Orb abilities push her into the Controller/Sentinel hybrid that we like, but as we’ve buffed her and released maps with more open space, she’s become both a must-have Controller and a best-in-roster Sentinel in too many situations. To balance her double role, we think it’s important she has clearer downsides when compared to those Agents that carry a more singular focus. Our main goal with Patch 4.04 is hitting Viper’s more oppressive Sentinel aspects—though some changes will hit her offensive output as well.
A reduction to her acid duration, increase to her smoke cooldowns, and visuals when her smokes are on cooldown will hopefully create more viable windows for teams to push through. We’ll keep a close eye on if these windows are realistic as both sides learn and play around them.
Speaking of which, KAY/O’s ability to produce opportunities with Zero/Point has been exciting to see, but we felt that the delay in the impact on Viper’s smokes specifically created awkward and unclear moments for his team to capitalize on. Removing this delay should hopefully add clarity and help unlock more of the “anti-stall” potential that we’ve wanted KAY/O’s suppress to produce.
An increase to the amount of fuel Viper drains when both smokes are active will hopefully reward teams that coordinate to apply pressure in multiple areas, while also creating a downside to using both smokes to totally cover smaller areas (like Hookah on Bind). We hope that, in general, this change creates an interesting point of mastery around fuel management, providing yet another way for Viper players to do Sabine’s favorite thing—show off their superiority.
We hope all the changes we’ve made to our Controllers will push the roster and VALORANT as a whole in a positive direction. However, we know that the job of balancing this game is never done. The team is excited to see these changes in the wild, take in your feedback, and figure out what’s next.
Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read this, and special thanks to all you Controller mains out there smoking for your team of insta-lock duelists!