If you’re not all that familiar with some of the competitive settings that directly affect tactical, first-person shooters, then you will be a bit confused as to why players are willing to leave an already established IP for higher tick rates.
You may have probably heard of CS: GO players leaving the game for Valorant because of rampant cheating issues. Not only is the Valorant anti-cheat 'Vanguard' a more potent software than VACnet, but the game is also much more accessible and boasts of a lower skill ceiling than CS: GO.
Leaving a game for these two points sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Leaving for server tick rates will sound even more bizarre to those who are new to the FPS genre.
When Riot Games promised 128-tick servers in Valorant not just for the pros but the average players as well, we came to know that the Valorant devs are quite serious about the competitive integrity of their new game.
So for the uninitiated in the competitive FPS scene, let us explain just how much of a luxury a 128-tick server is.
What is ‘tick rate’?
In layman’s terms, the tick rate is the frequency with which a server you’re playing in is capable of updating what you or any other player is seeing. It’s usually measured in Hz. So when a server shows that it is capable of a 64 Hz tick rate, it means that it’s capable of updating or rather sending new packets of information 64 times in a second.
So a server with a 128 tick rate will be updating the information twice as fast, and there will be no loss of visual information when a lot of things are happening at the same time around the map.
Why is a 128-tick rate server sought after by players?
Now to understand the importance of a 128 tick server in an FPS player’s life, we need to first take a look at its history with some other popular shooters.
CS: GO, for example, provides Valve servers which default to 64-ticks for the most part. But 128-tick servers are also available. Players will have to pay a small monthly fee and access them through third party companies like FACEIT and ESEA.
Professional CS: GO players prefer a 128-tick server more than anything else. As more frequencies will generate more information per second, the gameplay improvement that the pros experience is quite significant.
However, that’s not to say that the average player will not benefit from it as well.
Ever wondered why you were the one who got killed in a 1v1 scenario even when you had the drop on your opponent? Latency aside, the server tick rate is a huge factor in getting players killed in such situations.
The lower the server tick rate, the slower will your game send and receive information, delaying the visual update as a result.
The difference in latency between 64-tick and 128-tick servers is so much in CS: GO that there are actually two different line-ups for utility based on the server.
According to the assistant Arts professor of the NYU Game Center Naomi Clark:
“A 128-tick server is twice as fast at thinking about and processing changes which are made by a player in the game."
This makes the gameplay highly accurate, and you getting the drop on an enemy will result in you winning the duel unless you horribly mess up your aim and miss your shots. Having lesser non-registered hits, your aim being on point will not only improve the competitive integrity of a shooter but drastically reduce peeker’s advantage along with it.
Unlike ping, latency, packet loss, and FPS drop, a server’s tick rate is the only thing that a company has under its control when it comes to gameplay experience. So when Riot promises 128 ticks on all its Valorant servers, we can’t help but feel it to be a tough ask for a company which just made its entry into the FPS genre.
What makes 128-tick servers such a luxury?
So why do we feel that Riot may not be able to stick to its promise in the long run when Valorant gets even more popular with a robust eSports scene?
The answer to this is quite simple really. 128-tick servers are a luxury that no shooter till date has been able to provide to its players outside the competitive stage.
Take the example of Call of Duty: Warzone; which is a brand-new battle royale game from a company that has been active in the FPS genre for generations. It is only able to provide a 20 tick per second server to its players.
CS: GO, on the other hand, even after being eight years old (Counter-Strike as a series turns 21 this year) is only able to provide 64 ticks in standard matchmaking outside of FACEIT, ESEA, and the Majors.
So why aren’t such companies, who’ve been in the field for so long, able to provide players with 128-tick servers?
The main reason is that 128-tick servers are very expensive, and according to Naomi Clarke,
“If you think about the number of servers that are operating in order to support a large game, where there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people playing — if you suddenly need to double the processing power, then it’s a huge increase in cost.”
By how much the cost will increase is quite hard to say at the moment, as we aren’t exactly aware of the number of available servers they have and the traffic load that they will be facing once Valorant’s popularity spikes.
The number of variables is quite a lot, and we will not be able to get an accurate estimate; however, to get a rough idea, let’s take a look at Google Cloud and their servers.
Google Cloud has been offering its gaming servers to many IPs for some time now, and their CS: GO servers come for $50,000 to $100,000 a month, depending on the requested tick rate.
In an article by Ethan Davison of The Washington Post on Valorant’s higher tick-rate servers, the writer states that:
“The top competitive games use dedicated servers to guarantee fast play, which are much more expensive than a generic, out of the box service. Activision’s annual investor reports, where server costs are bundled with customer service expenses, give a better sense of the expense: in 2017, the company spent around $1 billion on game operations.”
Pros suggest that a higher tick rate is worth it
When asked about the importance of a higher tick rate, the T1 academy Valorant pro, Kurtis “Kurt” Gallo, said that there is a significant difference between a 64-tick and a 128-tick server:
“[At a low tick rate] I could shoot someone that’s falling, and maybe five or six of my shots will hit, but if you jump to 128-tick every single one of those shots is going to hit[.]”
Now, once a popular title starts to get serious about its eSports scene, it will usually try to improve the game’s competitive integrity by improving the responsiveness of the servers. So, when the Overwatch League servers went from a mere 20-tick to 60-tick, many of the pros were overjoyed at first, but they still felt that the competitive stage needed 128-tick servers.
Carlo “Dcop” Delsol, a former Overwatch pro, once stated:
“Their (Overwatch’s) competitive community surely appreciated it because it was a great improvement, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the 128-tick private server feel that CS: GO has and everyone wants. The difference between LAN and online will always be huge unless you’re playing in 128-tick servers with little to no ping.”
Valorant has been stepping up its game so far
Valorant, for now, has been able to provide 128 ticks in their servers. Though there have been a lot of problems with their servers ever since the release of the Valorant closed beta, from crashes to bugs and even exploits, the tick rate has never been an issue.
Because of this very fact, there will be no need for paid third-party sites to maintain the competitive integrity of Valorant.
According to the technical director of Valorant, Dave Heironymus:
“The Valorant team has put extensive effort into determining the best combination of tick rate and latency that will minimize peeker’s advantage, and those tests showed that a 128hz tick rate and 35ms (or less) latency would be best for our players. Blind tests also showed that elite FPS players … can reliably detect when the game is running at a lower tick rate.”
However, there are still some reservations among players, as the Valorant server locations will impeded the quality of competition, apart from the expense. But Riot did say that they will be coming up with a solution for this by providing Valorant data centers in major cities across the world.
For now, we will have to wait and see how things develop, and how the Valorant eSports scene will kick-off. But for now, Valorant's promise of 128-tick servers has been attracting a lot of players from other FPS genres, especially from CS: GO.