EU Valorant Ranked May Have Been Literally Screwed Beyond Repair 1.5 Years Ago
If you’ve been playing Valorant ranked in Europe, you certainly noticed the high number of players with voice chat disabled. This seems rather confusing, as the voice chat is enabled by default—did half your teammates really go to settings and turned it off? Well, not all of them: some are just Russians who have no say in this.
The Basics of Valorant Ranked matchmaking
As you may know, the closed beta is officially running in Canada, United States, Europe, Russia, and Turkey. When Riot started singling out Russia in their marketing materials for Valorant, I expected Russians to have a separate cluster (Riot calls them shards) just for them. It probably would not have improved the connectivity for them (after all, LoL’s “Russian” game servers are still somewhere in Western Europe), but you’d at least have people from the same region tied to the same flow. It is the way for League of Legends both game- and content-wise: you’re not going to find the video about two male Ionian lovers on the League’s localized YouTube Channel.
However, as I learned from Valorant’s customer support, there’s no RU shard. For Valorant purposes, your Riot account is marked as either EU or NA (not sure if Turkey has a separate shard), and the game also determines your country. This could come in handy for many purposes, including providing the user with country-specific payment methods for Valorant Points. After all, do you really expect the Netherlands to ditch their Maestro cards tied to an infuriating online banking solution?
Valorant support is willing to change your shard (which would reset all beta progress) or the country within the region, the latter coming without any caveats. I asked Riot to change my country and they did that, mentioning that any transfers and changes are possible only if you change the country of residence. The support agent didn’t ask for any legal proof; perhaps the session history was enough to approve my request.
The Catch with Valorant Ranked and voice chat
I use my long-time League account to play Valorant. I created it back when I lived in Russia, but I have always stuck to EUNE/EUW and never played League on the Russian server. I’ve been using the English client for both games, although Valorant suggested Russian as the default language. For what it’s worth, it may have picked up my Windows preferences.
When I got into the beta, I could not hear anyone talk whatsoever. Initially, I wrote it off as Riot not having the time to finish the voice chat functionality, but a quick search dismissed that explanation. Imagine my surprise when I opened the audio settings and there’s no voice chat tab in the audio settings (or any trace of it). As a result, players who were flagged as Russians by Valorant simply do not have access to voice chat.
Now, this could’ve been a smaller problem if users from Russia indeed had their own server and/or were put on teams that feature exclusively fellow Russians. You may have figured out from text chats that this is not the case. Apparently, all players assigned to the EU shard can end up in the same match without any restrictions. As it is, all European users are matched with Russian players who can’t hear their teammates or talk to them. The numbers game of how many Russians each team gets screams a lack of competitive integrity.
The reason a game developer with a Russian office won’t support voice chat is the Yarovaya law(s). In short, any Russian company that enables Russians to communicate should store their conversations for 6 months. We’re not talking metadata here: the companies are obliged to store the actual messages, calls, as well as audio and video recordings. This part of the law is enforced since October 2018 with the initial requirements to store stuff for 30 days. The capacity is increased by 15% every year.
As you can imagine, keeping voice chat for all the games over a month would take a lot of storage. The likes of Valve simply ignore the law (after all, Facebook and Twitter have been violating a separate “data protection” law for years without much consequence), but Riot’s legal presence in Russia blocks this route. They either have to comply with the regulation or disable the voice chat.
A Russian Rioter, Daniil “Dantesushka” Kryuchkov, confirmed to a Russian content creator Dmitry “finargot” Plyusnin that the current Russian regulations make the voice chat impossible to run.
“The legal climate is… We’re abiding by that law, we’re abiding by it to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, we can’t make the voice chat work in Russia and keep everyone happy. It, however, should be [now] functioning in other CIS countries. We hope that alternative solutions, such as Discord, will help you here. As a rule, the game is mainly good when you’re playing with friends. Unfortunately, the voice chat won’t work on the territory of the Russian Federation unless the legal climate becomes more favorable.“Daniil “Dantesushka” Kryuchkov, Riot Games Russia
Also, remember that all Europeans are currently part of the same player pool. Even if Riot Russia started recording and storing the voice chat for Russian users, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t fly with EU nationals they meet in matchmaking.
The Solution(s) to Valorant Ranked voice chat situation in EU?
It’s worth mentioning that Riot Russia had the same problem with League’s voice chat and disabled it in July 2018. For League, however, the voice chat works only if you’re part of the same group. It is a much more essential piece of functionality for Valorant, so we could speculate that Riot might bite the bullet and allocate the resources. After all, Russians are a top 3 user base in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
The first potential solution is isolating Russians in Valorant Ranked and recording Russians talking to other Russians on European game servers. It may, however, prove difficult, as there is no RU shard at the moment. The way Valorant ranked infrastructure is set up, I’m not even sure if account shards and game servers are separate things.
The second solution could be rolling out servers in Russia for Valorant Ranked and binding Russians to them. The Rioter Dantesushka commented on the possibility of hosting Russian game servers as well, although he had rephrased the question to “can you ever expect servers on Russia’s territory or in the CIS—in other words, closer [than the current ones]?”
“Yes, but the game should attract a lot of attention. A small audience would not make it financially viable. If you ever looked at the population density in the CIS, you could notice that most people live in the west and southwest. Siberia has a low population density, which makes it difficult [to justify] the infrastructure. We’re exploring options for the Far East users specifically, such as granting them access to the Japanese servers. This is just a concept and we do not have anything set in stone. Everything comes down to the results of our tests—not just this closed beta.“Daniil “Dantesushka” Kryuchkov, Riot Games Russia
The third solution would be isolating Russian users from the rest of the Europeans without setting up the infrastructure to give Russians the voice chat. This solution will preserve competitive integrity for the rest of Europe and, in a twisted way, for Russians as well. After all, both teams will have exactly zero players on the matchmaking voice chat.
I should note that League’s Ranked SoloQ/DuoQ functions somewhat similarly, as Riot have recently started to even out the number of (potentially using Discord) duos on each team. It’s not difficult to imagine the insane backlash from this solution: segregated players are less loyal. Less loyal players buy fewer skins. Besides, Russians do hate Russians when it comes to competitive video games. Trapping them without the voice chat or physical game servers could be too much.
The Bottom Line
It’s clear that no solution I’ve outlined is perfect. Unfortunately, Riot would eventually have to act, as Russians are indeed interested in the game. The Valorant page on Russia’s biggest social media, VK, has gained 79K followers since the game was announced. League of Legends page, despite all the loot giveaways, have attracted 559K followers since 2013. At this moment, more Russian users means more silent teammates (how would you like that in Ranked?), and Riot Russia have been promoting the game through local media just like anywhere else. Cybersport.ru, the third largest esports website in the world, was part of the media/influencer pre-beta bootcamp.
If I had to guess, Riot would be forced to take the third solution. Setting up a voice chat recording solution just for Russians, if technically feasible and financially viable, is not a quick matter. Separating them to apply this solution would cost more game server expenses and/or development resources to create a separate RU shard still tied to European game servers for Valorant Ranked. When Valorant Ranked play is rolled out, I’d be surprised to still see the status quo. After all, the game is scheduled for Summer 2020 with closed beta possibly streamlining into release, and I struggle to see the world where Ranked is not tested before that.