Riot Games fights smurfs in Valorant

Several weeks ago, Jeff Landa, manager of the Valorant Community, unveiled topics which would be handled by Riot Games during December. In addition to the large patch 5.12, the studio employee pointed to a serious issue, that of smurfs. Secondary accounts are a separate issue on the FPS, so it is taken very seriously by the developers. In their recent press release Valorant Systems Health, they reviewed the main results of the last few months of work.

Smurfing is a practice that consists of create a secondary account, in parallel to a main account. It exists on various multiplayer games, and Valorant is no exception. It exists on various multiplayer games, and Valorant is no exception. This is not a new topic on Riot Games' FPS. Already with patch 1.13, in December 2020, the studio sought to regulate this scourge that is damaging the experience of many players.

As explained by Briang Chang, Insights Manager, there are several reasons for creating a new account. In Valorant, the main origin of the practice seems to lie in the desire to play with lower ranked teammates in competitive mode. A reason that finally seems valid. Nevertheless, and this is what the developers are more concerned about, other players are creating these third-party accounts for other, less laudable and acceptable reasons : banning of the main account, wanting to crush players, and buying and selling higher ranked accounts.

If the subject is important to the studio, it is just as important to the players, whose games are too often impacted by smurfs. On one hand, they make the balancing of the games difficult to manage, on the other hand, they show more toxic behaviour.

As mentioned above, the studio quickly set about addressing this issue. Since the main reason for creating an alternative account is the desire to play with lower ranked friends, the developers looked for a way to reduce this desire. By allowing the creation of groups of 5 players with widely differing skill levels, they found a first solution.

Graph showing the percentage of groups of 5 players in competitive mode
Graph showing the percentage of 5-player groups in competitive mode, with the disparate groups

The graph on the left shows the percentage of games in competitive mode with groups of 5 players. It can be seen that an increase on deployment from patch 3.10 which provided the above-mentioned solution. This indicates that more players chose to play with 5 players after this update. The percentage remained at a higher value over time, but not the upward trend.

In order to verify the potential impact on the creation of smurfs, the studio studied the composition of these teams. The results are clear. As time goes by, groups of 5 players in ranked games are more likely to be made up of players of widely varying levels.

As a result, it is likely that fewer top-tier players have decided to re-register to play in lower tiers, or that the activity on these accounts has been reduced. To be sure, Riot Games needs to be able to detect the secondary accounts among all the others.

Since patch 5.01, the studio has also set up an automatic detection system for smurfs. The objective behind this tool was twofold: to find smurfs and to return them more quickly to their true rank by adjusting their MMR. By doing so, the developers limited the negative impact of a smurf in a lower-level game. According to Briang Chang's feedback, this work paid off. The results show a significant reduction in matches that ended in a stomp due to a smurf. All data for this analysis are available at the official website of Valorant.

After reading all these elements, you probably still have one question in mind: has the number of smurfs decreased? According to Riot, the answer is yes, as the graph below shows. Overall, the studio estimates that the number of alternative accounts fell by 17 % compared to the first half of the year.

Estimated percentage of smurfs based on patches

While these results seem encouraging, the developers are not yet finished with this topic, and plan to improve their tools for detecting smurfs and shared accounts.

We will end this article with a pertinent comment from Riot "there are instances where players believe that they are playing with someone who “doesn’t belong” in a rank, when in reality that player might just be having an unusually great game". Smurfs do exist, but so do good days!