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The Chamber conundrum: why nerfing the Sentinel could be disastrous

The Chamber conundrum: why nerfing the Sentinel could be disastrous

Landon Summers

11/25/2022

After the most recent Chamber nerfs, there was hope that the omnipresent weapons expert would be less oppressive. However, both VCT Champions and the Game Changers tournament have proven that is not the case; Chamber is still one of the most-picked agents in the game. Every part of his kit was hit: his teleport’s cooldown was increased and the range was decreased; his slow effect time on Tour-de-Force and Trademark was reduced, and his Headhunter cost more money per bullet. And yet, somehow, this French Sentinel continues to dominate the meta. With a confirmation from Riot Games about him getting a rework/more nerfs. the question now isn’t “how can he be balanced” but rather “can he be balanced?” With new nerfs on the horizon, I would like to offer a different take: no, and here is why.

To begin, let’s explore two other games that I am somewhat familiar with: Overwatch and League of Legends. While not exactly the same as VALORANT, I want to highlight two characters in these games that mirror our Chamber problem: for Overwatch, Brigitte, and for League, Yuumi.

The real GOAT

Before Overwatch 2, there was just Overwatch, and in that game, there was a support character running around causing massive havoc, Brigitte. Released in March 2018, she immediately began warping the metagame around her. She pioneered a comp named GOATS, which, in its most basic form, consisted of 3 tanks and 3 supports. She was able to cut down traditional comps like dive since she could stop key players on the enemy team with ease.  I was lucky enough to talk to two people in the scene that have been playing Overwatch since the beginning: Dragoneddy, a top Italian tank player in the EU servers, and Jakeow, Coach for the Houston Outlaws and former player.

Brigitte’s Launch Trailer

They both said the same thing about Brig’s release state: it was broken. She could block incoming damage with a shield, retaliate with a stun, provide extra armor to her teammates, and passively heal with every hit she dealt.

“These mechanics combined made brig incredibly hard to kill and also very effective at saving her allies,” said Jake. In essence, she was able to excel in everything. She was tanky, she stopped enemy dives, she protected her team, and she could bully enemy dps and tanks.

Feline Fatigue

When I tell you that Yuumi is a magical cat that flies around on a sentient book, you probably wouldn’t think that she is one of the strongest champions in the game. You would be wrong.

According to this video from Rival, who reports on League news and community topics, during Worlds 2022 (the Champions of League) Yuumi was banned 55 times, and the 8 times she was played, she had a 100% win rate. In fact, she had a 95% presence score, which means she was picked or banned in 95% of the games at worlds, which should put into perspective just how much she appears. There are clips of the crowd cheering when she was banned. She is one of, if not the most, disliked Champions in the game.

If you go on any platform, you can find numerous videos explaining why she is so strong, and so hated, but the tl:dr is the following: she is unfun to watch. She is able to dodge any incoming damage and abilities because of one of her abilities (called You and Me), and she gives her team the power to control the momentum of the game. The above video goes into more depth about Yuumi.

Unstoppable

The reason I wanted to bring up Brigitte and Yuumi is that they are examples of characters that needed core changes in order to truly “nerf” them. I counted 15 different patches that Brig had a nerf from release to now, and Yuumi’s patch notes history is the definition of turbulence, with nerfs and buffs and a hotfixes galore. The balance teams couldn’t get the power right because the issue did not pertain to one ability, it was in their design.

Jake pointed out that Brig’s dominance started to fade once she became more squishy and unable to give her team extra bulk. Eddy also pointed out that she started to drop off hard after teams were forced into a 2-2-2 role lock (2 tanks, 2 damage, 2 supports). Yuumi’s Zoomies (her heal) and her You and Me are constantly under the nerf hammer. I counted over 20 different patches with some form of balance change to her. And yet, she still appears as she did at Worlds 2022 because the issue isn’t that her abilities are powerful, it’s that You and Me exists.

This leads to Chamber, who slots into a similar box to these two. We can argue on whether or not he is truly broken, but we cannot deny that he is literally everywhere. Just take a look at the last 5 VALORANT patches. Chamber was, and still is, the most picked agent, which means he was one of the most picked agents in every registered tournament and game on rib.gg. He sports a similar presence to Brig (who was in practically every game) and Yuumi (with her 95% presence rate), and a lot of keywords used to describe the two meta-definers in other games are used to describe Chamber. Let me list a few and see if you hear any similarities to Chamber: “unfun to play with/against”, “boring to watch”, “needed on almost every team”, “difficult/impossible to maneuver around”, and “has an unfair mechanic (or mechanics)”. Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

For Chamber, it is even more clear: anti-trading. Chamber’s Rendez-vous completely ignores the weaknesses that using an Operator brings. Sitting and holding an angle leaves you vulnerable to wide swings, and if you miss, you basically have to try and juke your way out of a sticky situation. So, without an “out” button, you have to play it safe. Enter Chamber: a character with an anti-trade ability even more powerful than pre-nerf Jett that is given a free Operator at least once every half.

But the issue doesn’t stop there. It’s not like the anti-trade is attached to the Tour-de-Force; he can use it any round, every round, even twice a round, for free. If Jett wanted to do that, she would have to get 2 kills to use it twice, for Reyna, also two kills. Yoru has to buy a teleport in order to anti-trade twice. Chamber? He gets it for free. He also can be reactive, and, as we learned with Jett, reactive anti-trade feels unfun to play against.

Also, let’s not forget the map design. Every map that Chamber sees high play on has long hallways and chokepoints that allow teams to funnel into his sightlines. Really any map except Ascent has numerous sightlines and points of aggression that Chamber can take. The only reason Ascent doesn’t see as much Chamber is the limited routes to the site make Killjoy’s utility even more potent. Plus, compare a map like Breeze or Icebox to Ascent; there are fewer places for a Chamber to hide. These maps are made to allow for Operators, and thus, Chamber.

The reason Chamber can’t be nerfed

When I ran a poll on my Twitter asking people “who would be banned the most agent right now if there were agent bans,” 71.8% of the respondents said Chamber. But, as Anderrz pointed out, Chamber wasn’t the most banned agent at the Knights VALORAMPAGE tournament:

However, something I want to point out is that, on many maps, Chamber has a losing pick rate, with less than 50% win rates on many maps in the past few patches.

Win rates for the past five patches. The line touching the blue and green bars by Chamber is 50%.

Here lies the issue: Chamber is too relied upon. His win rates sometimes dip into losing territory on many maps where he sees the highest pick rates. His overall win rates at Champions and GC Champions? 49.0% and 50.8% respectively.

Pick rates for the past five patches. The line that crosses through all the bars except yellow is 70%.

You can actually see in patch 5.09, his win rate dropped to 48.3%. As someone who works with a lot of data, this tells me two things: when he is picked, generally both sides play him (meaning his win rate will be close to 50% with a high pick rate), and when only one side picks him, teams have counter-play in order to deal with him, but it doesn’t always work (explaining the slightly less than 50% win rate). Even when Chamber might be a detriment, teams still pick him. Again, VALORANT Champions 2022, where Chamber had a 49% win rate, but a 67% pick rate. This backs Anderrz‘ tweet, “A lot of teams would rather play comfort than ban it (Chamber) and there are characters that directly disrupt game plans that teams like to play….”

Someone could say, you know, you could just sub in Jett or Cypher, and the comp still works. Chamber isn’t that integral to teams. Now, my question to you is: can you really sub in these agents? Jett? She can definitely Op, but do you want a Duelist to sit and hold a site? She also can’t escape as easily as Chamber, and she doesn’t have a trip, so she can’t watch rotations or hold angles that well. Then there is Cypher, who the devs pointed out as a foil to Chamber. He has the intel, the lurking power, and the ability to catch rotations. However, he can’t aggro op, he can’t anti-trade, and playing with a Chamber is much different than playing with a Cypher.

Link to a podcast discussing Cypher and Chamber

Chamber is comfortable, he provides a lot of comfort for his team, and he is easy just to throw onto a team comp. In order to nerf Chamber, you have to nerf the comfort: i.e. the anti-trading. The anti-trading is what makes Chamber’s role of Op-ing go from a coin flip to a net positive. Let’s be real for a moment, watching a Chamber with Rendez-vous up is a painful experience. We know that if he is there, he will get one and get out. As a spectator, it’s more shocking when it doesn’t work, because it is that easy to whiff and get out with Chamber’s utility. He provides so much safety for teams, he is so relied upon for these sorts of scenarios, that’s not something you can really balance; you can only change the way he is played.

What do I mean by “change how he is played?” What I mean is that you can’t just nerf the numbers. Cooldowns, teleport radius, and slow durations are all fine and dandy, but unless you rework how he plays, he will still do what he does. Maybe give him the Jett treatment, with the preemptive dash. Or you could make it so that his teleport can’t be placed before the round, that would prevent those hyper-aggressive Chamber holds and make Chamber’s reconsider where to place the tps. There are numerous options and numerous paths that could be taken. However, exploring these options is necessary, as the last thing anyone wants to see is Chamber getting the Brig/Yuumi treatment of numerous number nerfs over and over. If we want to change, there has to be a core change to Chamber or to VALORANT.

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