"Pursue a career that makes you excited every Monday, instead of wishing it was Friday,” Preeti Khanolkar, Valorant's premium content senior producer
Valorant has grown to be one of the most popular Esports games within the first year of its launch.
A major pillar behind the game’s ever-growing success is its amazing offering of post-launch premium content that excels in quality and quantity. Each weapon's skin is unique with a distinct visual synergy.
One of the brilliant minds behind such amazing content is Preeti Khanolkar, the premium content senior producer of Valorant.
From the dragon-themed Elderflame to the recently revealed mythical blue forest Slivanus, Khanolkar and her team have designed amazing weapon skins with unique animation and visual effects.
In an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda Esports’ Suryadeepto Sengupta, Khanolkar opened up about her journey as a video game developer, the process of designing weapon cosmetics at Riot Games, and much more.
The following is an excerpt of the conversation.
Q. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your journey from Cornell University to Riot Games, League of Legends Publishing, and finally as a Premium Content producer for Valorant?
Preeti: My father has been a CEO for an organization and would always tell me about the entrepreneurs he worked with who had law degrees but no longer practiced law.
So when I enrolled in Cornell University for law school, I always knew that I didn’t want to be a lawyer forever. A few months after I started working as a lawyer, I published a research paper on the sociological aspects of video gaming in a proper academic publication.
I had written the paper based on a thesis project I had done in college, for which I had won several awards. It was significant at the time since there wasn’t much academic research on video games in 2006. I was having so much fun editing the paper that I was inspired to look into jobs in the video game industry.
I thought to myself, 'I’m a smart person who works hard. If I can be a lawyer, I can do anything if I put my mind to it.' I networked with industry professionals and attended some gaming conferences. As a result, I was lucky enough to get a job at Riot Games for League of Legends publishing.
My husband was very supportive, so I left my job as a lawyer, and he left his job as a pharmacist. We moved to California in 2013. After a few years, I worked with Valorant because the team leader appreciated my interest in competitive games.
Since I was interested in cosmetics and how players customize in-game, I was put on the weapons team to learn how weapons are made.
Once our team finished making the base weapons, we moved on to make skins, battle pass content, and agent contracts. Now, here we are.
Q. Were you an avid gamer before joining the industry? Other than Riot Games IPs, what are some of the video games you enjoy? When did you decide to pursue a career in video games?
Preeti: I’ve been playing lots of video games since I was five-years-old, starting with Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong on the NES.
Other than Valorant and League of Legends, I also enjoy playing Legend of Zelda and Fire Emblem. Lately, I’ve played a lot of an RTS called Northgard with friends, along with online social deception games like Among Us.
I decided to pursue a career in video games in my late 20s.
Q. You and your team have designed some amazing weapon cosmetics. From dragon-themed Elderflame to WWII-inspired Infantry. What are some of your favorite weapon cosmetics?
Preeti: Thank you. My favorites are Reaver and Ion. I love edgy and dark thematic, and I think Reaver really executed its fantasy so well. I especially love the equip and kill sounds. I feel like I play better and more confidently when I use my Reaver Vandal.
The headshots feel like they’re free. I also love Ion because it’s futuristic, and the spinning orb is so beautiful and powerful-looking. That’s why I especially love the trailer that our marketing team did for Ion. Because it was epic-feeling and really highlighted the power of the weapon’s energy core.
Q. How did you and your team approach designing the fan-favorite Glitchpop series while setting it apart from other generic cyberpunk weapon designs popularized by science fiction media?
Preeti: Many people on the team love cyberpunk thematics, so they contributed many reference images for the design of the gun, visual effects, and the audio. One of our artists, Chris Stone, came up with the pitch for Glitchpop after seeing an initial concept from one of our conceptual artists.
After that, a small group built the “world” of Glitchpop. Basically, we invented the setting where Glitchpop exists, who would use it, why it was being used, what the mood was, etc.
This helped us develop elements like the stickers, which were corporate logos in a far-future society overrun with capitalism and commodification.
With creative exercises like this, we could take Glitchpop and make it feel loud, bold, and colorful. We wanted to give it a darker undertone that’s reminiscent of classic cyberpunk aesthetics.
Q. The Valorant Go collection is a unique weapon skin, where the Agent drawing always faces the player. Was there any unique challenge behind making that happen?
Preeti: Yes! Our art lead, Sean Marino, worked closely with a few engineers to find a solution that would ensure that the Agent always looks good with the weapon regardless of the angle.
If we had painted it on the side of the gun like players probably expected, the Agent would be difficult to see. A few weeks before the skin was supposed to ship, Sean told me he was anxious that the tech wasn’t working, so the skin wouldn’t ship.
He had stayed up late the night before, trying to find a solution, but was stuck. We came up with a plan to ask one of the engineering teams to help. They were accommodating and solved the problem quickly. We are so grateful for their help.
Q. Each of the Valorant Protocol Agents has a signature weapon skin. What is the design process behind capturing the agent’s characteristics in a cosmetic?
Preeti: We typically start creating Agent Contracts content a few months before the Agent is developed.
Thus, we use concepts of the Agents as inspiration and have a creative brainstorm with the Character Team so we can understand the new Agent: their backstory, where they’re from, what they love, what they hate, what they fear, and their gameplay.
Once we understand that, we try to pick a pistol that fits their playstyle and pull significant elements of the Agent’s concept art and incorporate it into their pistol skin.
Q. The Valorant Champions Tour is indeed growing to become a worldwide phenomenon. Are there any plans to develop tournament-specific weapon skin?
Preeti: That’s not something I can say “yes” or “no” to right now.
Q. The Kingdom collection introduced in Episode 1 Act 1 is tied to in-game lore and is one of the major antagonistic factions. Are there any plans for other such weapon cosmetics tying in with the in-game narrative?
Preeti: I can’t answer this right now, but that would be cool, wouldn’t it?
Q How familiar are you with the Indian video game development scene? How do you feel about its future as more ambitious games such as Raji: an Ancient Epic and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Remake are being developed in India?
Preeti: I am not familiar with the Indian video game scene, but that is really cool. I’m glad to hear that video game development is growing in India because gaming worldwide is getting more popular every year.
I haven’t met many Indian video game developers, so it looks like that is changing. I’m proud that India is part of that change.
Q. What would your advice be to the young, ambitious game developers of today who are trying to make it in the field?
Preeti: You are the only person who has to live your life, so do what makes you happy. Pursue a career that makes you happy, something you’re excited to be doing every Monday, instead of wishing it was Friday.
Remember that it takes a lot of hard work and a decent amount of luck. But if you keep trying and focus on learning and improving, you will get a job in the video game industry. It can be upsetting when you’re rejected or fail, but we’ve all experienced that.
The only reason we’re in the game industry is that we didn’t give up and tried to learn how we could become better candidates. I was rejected from so many game studios before Riot Games accepted me.
Even then, I think I was fortunate because the people interviewing me could see how passionate I was and were willing to take a chance on me.
I’m very grateful for that and for my husband and parents, who were so supportive of me leaving my career in law to pursue a career in video games.