The origins of Phoenix

Today, the first Duelist of Valorant is celebrating his fifth anniversary. Yes, it is indeed Phoenix. On this occasion, the developers of the FPS have dedicated the whole of the an article in which they look back on the origins of this Agent who makes sparks fly.

The (re)birth of Phoenix

Phoenix was born many years ago now, before the roles were even created. So at that time he was not yet considered a Duelist or sometimes an Initiator, he was simply seen as the perfect Agent to be the last hope of a team to lead it to victory.

Phoenix started with this idea of a back-against-the-wall, last-man-standing character who could fight against all odds. We were trying to capture that essence of what we now call the VALORANT moment. And the ability we were thinking about was his ultimate,” excal shares. “We sort of pictured the ultimate ability where you’d have a second life in some form.

Bobby 'excal' Prochnow - Game Designer

Indeed, when creating the Agent, his ultimate allowed him to obtain a kind of invincibility for a few seconds when his health points dropped to zero. He played the role of the martyr who is sent to sacrifice himself for his team, but who may ultimately be the hero.

This conception of Phoenix fitted perfectly with his theme, as he was the phoenix rising from his ashes to fight a final battle.

Final version of Revanche, the ultimate Phoenix
Final version of Revanche, the ultimate Phoenix

Finally, after testing, the developers decided to review this ultimate. Now he casts his ability knowing that his death would allow him to return to the point where he casted it.

In early tests it became apparent that this is actually an aggressive, gas pedal kind of character who wants to go in first. And I thought, ‘you know what? This kind of works!’ So we embraced that and the kit started to fall into place around that idea.

Bobby 'excal' Prochnow - Game Designer

The idea of making Phoenix a killing machine capable of evolving on his own quickly became apparent to the development team. They needed to give him skills that could both hurt enemies and protect him. That's why the creators gave him the abilities Blaze and Hot Hands which allow him to heal himself when he passes through, but which can also inflict damage on opponents.

So there was still one ability to be found. If today we know that it is Curveball, it was not always the case. Just like the other Duelists, Phoenix had a dash. The more it was loaded, the further the agent went on the map, but always in a straight line and leaving him vulnerable the whole time. So it was not to be used lightly and it was not really what the developers were looking for in this character. To give him more flexibility and better ability to enter sites, his creators modified his competence to become what we know today: Curve Ball.

Originally, Phoenix’s flash went forward. But people had trouble getting it around the wall and out of their line of sight. Because VAL has many of these right angles that you’re always fighting around, it’s very natural to want to just bend it around the wall. It came from a gameplay need more than anything else.

Bobby 'exal' Prochnow - Game Designer

And now he has all his abilities, he has to be given a visual identity, a task that was entrusted to the art team working on the game.

The origins of Phoenix - thematic story board representing phoenix using its skills -
Phoenix skill chain

Moving away from the incendiary archetype

The aim was not to make Phoenix like all the characters you see in films, TV shows or video games, who manipulate fire and use it to reduce everything to ashes. He had to stand out because of his ability to control it, to do a lot of damage without destroying everything in its path. This is why the artistic team decided to approach it from a different, sunnier angle, making him blind his opponents while hurting.

From the art standpoint, the solar theme did present some challenges. Fire I think is easy to understand and execute on. Solar is a bit like, ‘Gosh, is it fire? Is it light? Magnetic fields? What exactly does this visually look like?’ While challenging, I think overall it helped us to kind of hone him down into a simple, singular thematic.

Minoh " SS_Minnow_2017 " Kim - Senior 3D Character Design Manager

Finally, the Agent's personality and character had to fit with the fire theme. All these little details were debated for a long time by the developers, until they decided to throw out all their first character ideas and start again. Phoenix did not escape this and his physical appearance and origins were completely revised.

For a total recreation of the Duelist, the development and artistic teams relied on his voice actor, Afolabi Alli. They researched the region of origin so that the agent's history and physical appearance would fit in with that geographical area.

The origins of Phoenix - phoenix's final visual identity -
Final version of the Phoenix visual identity

That was it, all the details were taken care of and Phoenix was now ready to be presented to the world.

Two years later

Now that the game is well established in the FPS world, our Agent is not as popular as he was when he first came out. In the early days of the game, his abilities were formidable, especially because players were not yet very experienced in the game. But now the community has learned to avoid some of his abilities, especially Curve Ball, which is quite noisy. Phoenix was therefore left behind in favour of characters such as KAY/O, Skye and Yoru, because they have more effective blinding abilities.

This is why the Duelist got buff on patch 5.01. Curve Ball's loading time has been reduced and the duration of the blindness has been increased to allow the Agent to regain his place as a favourite.

According to the data in competitive queue, Phoenix is quite strong after the buff,” penguin shares. “He’s still a bit more range-gated with his flash than someone like Skye, but that’s a good thing. For a Duelist, his flash is very hard to dodge now, debatably too hard to dodge.

Dan 'penguin' Hardison - Game Designer

While Phoenix is once again popular with the general public, this is still not the case with professional players. Indeed, he is regularly among the least played characters at international events. This was the case, for example, at the Masters of Reykjavik and Copenhagen, or more recently at the Valorant Champions Istanbul. It will take more than that for our phoenix to rise from his ashes on the competitive scene.