It was in May of last year; Valorant was still in beta, gamers the world over rushed to Twitch for a chance to snatch one of few beta keys that Riot Games would intermittently toss to the starving masses. Hyp, the former star player for Paris Eternal in Overwatch, who would later go on to join the Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, led his eponymous team, Hyphyphyp, against the formidable English core of Fish123.
The meta was still raw; teams tended to play whatever they wanted, but these two sides shared some common ground: they both featured a Cypher.
Three months later, Riot is attempting to kick off Valorant’s competitive scene by organising the Ignition Series for all major regions. It’s pretty much been the same story wherever you go: in the Mandatory Cup, at the Vitality European Open, and at the WePlay! Invitational, Cypher has consistently been the most popular agent. He even surpasses Sage, who continues to fall out of favour following a series of successive nerfs.
This trend is ever more visible in the United-States. Led by Coach Tailored — “the meta slayer” — TSM won the Faze Clan Invitational barely playing Sage, but they never forget to bring in Cypher. How can a guy that sticks cameras to walls be more popular than an agent that brings players back from the grave?
A Dangerous Game
Cypher has a camera at his disposal that lets him keep an eye on areas he’s vacated, a Trapwire which reveals players that walk over it, and a smoke that blocks vision. The power of this kit only becomes evident when you realise that all three abilities let Cypher do the same thing: see without being seen. And if you’ve never played a slow fps, you may not realise how important that might be.
This strength is important, as in Valorant, your life is as valuable as it is finite. Meagre health bars, shields that fail to protect you from one-taps, and a single life per round results in a game that punishes players heavily for the slightest error. Unlike Fortnite, where being taken unawares gives you enough time to construct a veritable fortress, being shot in the back in Valorant is nothing more than an invitation to wait for the next round. Even if both players have their wits about them, a duel tends to go in favour of the player that expects the other, which is why trading is so useful. So it’s clear: information is king.
In CS:GO, players have two ways of retrieving information: using their ears, which can only be relied on if enemies make a mistake, and using their eyes, which comes with a risk, and as you may well recall from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s loading screens: “If the enemy is in range, you are as well”. In Valorant, players have completely new tools at their disposal, and for the first time they can receive information without risking being shot — though it is almost always presented in an incomplete form: Sova’s arrows only ping enemies that can be seen by the bolt, while Raze’s Boom Bot will beep if it sees an enemy… or five. There’s only one agent that actually allows you to keep an eye on where you aren’t, and that agent is Cypher.
You just need to take one look at the image above to understand how powerful Cypher is on defence. An enemy that wants to enter this site will be either:
- Seen in advance by the camera, without knowing where Cypher is, and immediately put at disadvantage from the start
- Blinded by the smoke, which can be deployed to only reveal their feet, making the player a free target
- Slowed by the Trapwire and forced to aim down to clear the trap, in a game where crosshair placement is crucial
This triple layer of protection can be applied no matter which route the attackers choose to employ. Thanks to the camera, Cypher knows exactly when to activate the smoke, and once it’s activated, it doesn’t matter how many attackers there are on the other side: firing through a disadvantageous one-way smoke is a bad idea alone, and is just as bad an idea as a team. To avoid being mown down where they stand, some teams elect to push through the smoke and overwhelm Cypher. It’s generally at that point where they run over the Trapwire, gifting the defender even more time to wipe them out. The smartest teams will chose to take another path, but in both cases, Cypher is the only agent that can defend a bombsite against an entire team by himself. You can see below how this setup plays out at the A-site on Haven, though this setup works equally well on C-site, and at A-site and B-site on Split and Bind respectively.
Long Distance Defence
Defending a site with a single agent isn’t bad, but I know full well that you’re an expectant bunch: you want excitement. So how about defending a bombsite without any agents at all? Why not simply let the enemy team entry and plant the bomb? After all, Valorant is much more about retaking bombsites than CS and there are some sites that can be retaken quite feasibly. Put Cypher’s camera in one of these sites and you’ll discover that this fantastic object has the good sense to stay silent and invisible when it in use. Prepare your team for the retake and when the assault starts, the unfortunate attackers will quickly find themselves protecting a hard to defend point…with their positions being revealed by the camera all the while.
This is far from fanciful strategy, as this technique is regularly employed by the best teams in the world and has proven to be particularly effective at the A-sites on Haven, Bind, and Ascent.
In the Eye of the Beholder
So, how does Cypher’s camera fare on attack? Let’s assume that we’re on Ascent and there’s a defender watching mid with an Operator. This player has to cover one of the largest areas in the map. It’s not just any old area, as it not only allows defending teams to easily rotate from site to site, but it also lets teams attack any of the map’s three bombsites. The defender in question is a dab hand with the Operator; their reflexes are top notch and simply by being there, they have turned mid into no-man’s land. Suddenly, Cypher places his camera in front of them, all without leaving the safety of his cover.
The sniper has the following options:
- Shoot the camera. By the time they can fire again, an attacker can take up the sight line, and without help from their teammates, the sniper will be at a disadvantage for their next duel.
- Fall back and abandon the sight line to the enemy.
- Ignore the camera. The enemy team now knows their position and they’re in danger as an enemy can peak them from anywhere with full knowledge of their exact location.
In all outcomes, a top-level player will forfeit what might be the most important spot on the map. All that was required was a single skill from Cypher, all without any risk, neither to player nor camera, as it can be recovered in less than a minute if it is destroyed. This example shows the extreme power that Cypher also holds over attack.
Piercing the Fog of War
Speaker of attacking, defenders have more to worry about than just snipers, as a lurker taking your team completely unawares while your team waits in front of a spot is also an ever-present danger. A lurker may slink away from their original bombsite and pass through an area previously held by the attackers at the start of the game. This area is often an unknown mid-round, as teams lack info and the enemy can do whatever they please in it. RTS players traditionally refer to this as “Fog of War”
As more attackers cluster together to enter into a bombsite, their hold on the map diminishes, and if that team suddenly has to change plan and attack another bombsite, the path to the site may take them through dangerous parts of the map, where every turn may conceal an ambush.
To reduce the chance of that happening, attackers are inclined to leave their skills behind them, with skills that reveal enemies being best suited for the job. Only, most of these skills are temporary. Sova’s drone and arrow, as well as Raze’s Boom Bot, only last several seconds after all, so a lurker can just delay their movement to avoid detection. There’s only a single ability in the game that remains indefinitely, loyal at its post until an enemy crosses its proximity: Cypher’s Trapmine.
When it’s triggered, the trap briefly reveals the enemy, but most notably it disappears from the minimap, confirming to the Cypher player that someone has passed through its proximity. These mines allow a team to know which areas are safe, which simultaneously protects attackers from flanks and saves considerable time when they have to rotate, making what seems like a defensive-minded agent a must-have on attack as well.
Relatively Untouched by Nerfs
Unlike Sage players, who open every new set of patch notes with trembling hands, Cypher mains do so with a lot less trepidation. Their agent has only been nerfed a single time since launch. The reasoning: Cypher isn’t popular at all on the ladder. While he may be the darling of the competitive scene, there’s little chance of players coming across one during their solo-queue matches.
Cypher has been widely avoided in ranked as for all the vital information he offers, it will generally fall on deaf ears, namely due to the stubborn 14 year olds that are an unavoidable reminder of the perils of matchmaking. Closely following the movement of the enemy team’s lurker as he works his way through mid to B and transmitting that information to your solo-queue teammates is almost as fruitless an endeavour as trying to carry out insider trading with the family dog.
Therefore, Cypher falls into a category of characters that only work with a healthy dose of co-operation. His League of Legends equivalent would be Ryze, a character with unlimited destructive potential that requires the support of a team moving as one. This simple mandate dooms Cypher to a pickrate bordering on unchosen, though this does protect him from being nerfed, as it’s increasingly difficult to lay waste to an agent that nobody plays. Only, if Cypher continues to dominate the professional scene as he has done up to this point, then something will have to be done. In a game like Valorant, the devs favour a solution consisting of introducing a new, similar character to the game to offer an alternative to the pros.
Enter Killjoy: no other agent until now has been so similar to Cypher in their design. Could her arrival finally mark the end of the Moroccan sentinel’s 100% pickrate, or might she slide in alongside him and bring in an era of ‘double sentinel’ team compositions?
Killjoy is the twelfth agent to be introduced in Valorant. According to John Goscicki, Character Product Lead, a nerf of her abilities is planned in the next patch.
Translated by James Whitmore.