Riot Games has successfully balanced the art of storytelling and the competitive esports aspects of Valorant.
Zakky from VALORANT Hub is arguably the best Valorant lore media content creator out there. From in-depth lore dives to discussions about the future of the game, both from an esports and lore perspective, Zakky covers everything related to Valorant in the VALORANT Hub channel.
In an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda Esports' Suryadeepto Sengupta, Zakky from VALORANT hub opens up about his journey till now, his thoughts about the in-game lore, about his future vision for the game, and VALORANT Hub.
Valorant Hub's Zakky opens up about gaming and life in general
Q. So Zakky, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s life like outside of making amazing Valorant content?
Zakky: First, thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated!
Second, most of my time over the past few years since working in digital and marketing for BBC Wales, has been spent building my digital media business. Currently, there’s not a lot of work-life balance quite honestly, in part, due to the global pandemic of course.
That said, when I’m not working, I seize every (safe) opportunity I have to travel abroad - which hasn't happened in the past year. A few months before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, I was traveling in Sri Lanka and that is truly when I am in my element. When I’m home (in the UK), I’m generally working on my business for most of the day, every day.
Q. Before Valorant hub, did you create any other game-related media content?
Zakky: I have been making game-related media for half of my life. I’m currently 22-years-old and my first memory of doing gaming videos was when I was 11-years-old. I was using Windows Movie Maker on a PC with 1GB RAM.
I started to learn software like Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere & After Effects a few years later when I was 14-years-old on a 4GB RAM laptop. Most of my gaming interests have been on AAA live-service multi-players: Uncharted, Call of Duty, GTA, Overwatch, Fortnite, etc.
Q. What was your thought process and inspiration leading up to the creation of Valorant Hub?
Zakky: I became aware of Valorant as it was Project A in 2019 as @Slasher on Twitter (Rod Breslau) posted every now and then about it. Quite honestly, Valorant Hub was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I created the channel on the first day of the Twitch Closed Beta when I saw so many established streamers, pro players, and industry analysts get excited about it. The hype seemed genuinely organic compared to other game launches that I’ve seen over the past few years, which is what really caught my interest.
Due to the nature of online trends, I jump at new opportunities when they come up. Honestly, when I start new projects, there’s always the possibility that they will last one week before I cancel the project, whilst other times, the project has the scope to run for generations. I firmly believe Valorant Hub could be one of these projects that runs longer than my own lifetime.
Q. Other than Valorant, what are some of the other games of different genres you enjoy?
Zakky: Grand Theft Auto V is super underrated in my opinion. I understand that this opinion might be met with confusion so I’ll explain.
GTA V is a pinnacle within gaming, and in general, the title itself is clearly critically acclaimed. I do believe though, that the idea of bringing certain parts of the United States to life - albeit in a somewhat caricature form - has to be one of the most impressive and underrated feats I’ve ever encountered in gaming. I really believe that GTA still hasn’t fully been capitalized on. The game has so much social potential and whilst the term is widely overused, the GTA metaverse is something I’d love to see built on.
Fortnite has had Travis Scott and Marshmello concerts. Why hasn’t GTA done something like this yet? They clearly understand the culture, as the in-game radio, the NPC voice lines, and in-game brands like Weazel News demonstrate. GTA RP is a start but it’s in Rockstar’s hands to go further. GTA has the chance to build unparalleled experiences within gaming still.
Q. Other than your main channel, you created Valorant Hub 2 to focus on Esports and short format content. Do you plan to build a 3rd channel to focus on a different aspect or would you prefer to keep all your content under one roof?
Zakky: Good question! Currently, there are no plans to build a Valorant Hub 3. Valorant Hub 2 was created for two reasons: 1) If anything ever happened to the main channel, I’ve been online long enough to see the horror stories. Every important project needs a backup, period. 2) The YouTube algorithm is an interesting machine. In some cases, you are rewarded for taking risks and being creative. In other cases, taking risks can hurt the short-term momentum of a channel.
When videos do well, there is added pressure to continue that momentum and build the community with it. YouTube is essentially built on user feedback. So even if someone has enjoyed your videos and they’re subscribed, if they don’t click and watch enough of your videos on a regular basis, eventually YouTube will stop recommending your videos.
Building a second channel where I can test a wide range of ideas for videos, therefore, felt like the best way forward. If a new type of video does well on Valorant Hub 2, I know there is a demand for it and can test it on the main Valorant Hub YouTube channel with confidence. If it doesn’t do well, that doesn’t matter - it’s on the second channel after all.
That said, eventually, there will also be regional Valorant Hub channels. Soon™
Q. Let’s talk about your content creation process. Keeping editing aside, how much time do you dedicate to researching, scripting, and shooting the regular videos?
Zakky: The mission for Valorant Hub is to be a true ‘Hub’ for all Valorant fans; that is people who enjoy playing Valorant and those who barely play it but enjoy the IP. So that means there’s a lot of variety and range with the videos I make. The range goes from docuseries-style videos about the Valorant storyline/lore to the Future Earth News series that highlights Valorant news from around the globe. As you can imagine, the process, therefore, varies a lot.
Generally, though, the majority of the time spent on researching/scripting/filming is shown on my Twitch channel, where streams generally last about 5 hours per day. Sometimes I do work off-stream to prepare to make a video on-stream. Researching/scripting/storyboarding itself - especially with the storyline - can take 2 to 20+ hours, which mainly varies based on what story I am covering.
When I was learning about Yoru and his 18th Century Japanese origins, I spent weeks learning about the Edo period and Japanese folklore, in order to better understand the Samurai situation in Icebox. Similarly, with Astra, I spent whatever time I could be studying 18th Century Ghanaian history/culture to better understand Astra’s possible roots.
Having said that, if I’m researching for a news video, it will take considerably less time as generally that is a matter of reading through current events on Twitter and simply trying to translate what I’m understanding of the situation to the rest of the Valorant community.
Q. Riot Games have crafted interesting backstories and unique characteristics for all the agents. Whose backstory and characteristics do you find most interesting and why?
Zakky: I’m not sure if there is an agent that I’m specifically the most interested in from a lore perspective. I think maybe Omen has me the most intrigued in that they are the only agent whose origin we don’t know. Every other agent has a location tied to their backstory. Omen is simply “???”. I also want to learn more about Yoru and what happened to the ship on Icebox. I did a lot of research about the concept of Yureis in Japanese folklore and honestly, I won’t be satisfied until I know who Yoru’s ancestor was and what happened to the Samurai room in Icebox!
But regarding interesting backstories, the difficulty as of the current time is we still know very little about pretty much every agent. The Valorant team has been very much quieter with lore/storyline than the other aspects of the game like new content and esports for example.
Q. Riot Games has already confirmed that they don’t have any current plans for the Valorant story mode. Other than the in-game player cards and voice lines, what do you think would be perfect to explore the story of Valorant?
Zakky: I believe Riot’s official answer to story mode is that story mode is not in the “current” plans. That said, I believe an official quote of theirs in an Ask Valorant back in late December was “never say never”. Personally, I think a story mode is a golden opportunity - it just comes down to the right timing and resources - and is more than likely something that would be pursued if/when we see console/mobile launch, as that would be the casual audience that would be most likely to play/enjoy it on a mass scale.
Having said that, I really think that ARG events i.e alternative reality game events are an amazing way to connect with the Valorant community and fully realize the potential of the Valorant lore community. Similar to what we saw from Overwatch’s Sombra ARG.
I truly believe the community would benefit from seeing more entertainment mediums such as cinematic shorts, potentially manga comics would be perfect to truly explore the Valorant storyline.
Q. What are your thoughts on the two cinematic short; Duelist and Retake? Would you prefer a longer format with further story development, or do you think the current short format is perfect for teasing fans and building upon the existing lore and mythos of Valorant?
Zakky: Personally, I believe that short formats are amazing for teasing fans and giving us lore nerds something to analyze. Having said that, I truly believe that longer/more in-depth formats are vital in the current situation where we’re still very much left guessing and theorizing, almost a year after launch. I feel that it’s more of an “and” than an “or” situation but I understand logistics are very difficult during COVID-19.
Q. Considering the Valorant agents have a touch of their home country’s cultural, sociological, and mythical impact, which Agent nationality would you be interested to see Riot’s take on?
Zakky: Regarding current agents, as I’ve mentioned, I want to see where Omen is from. But if we’re talking about new/potential upcoming agents… I think it would be really cool to see an Indian agent - just brainstorming, it would actually be cool to see a Bhutanese agent.
A Bhutanese agent would be really interesting to tie into Haven, which is based on Thimphu, Bhutan - Thimphu being the capital city of Bhutan. Seeing how the narrative team built Astra’s storyline on Afrofuturism, it would be interesting to see what could be done with Bhutanese and Indian culture and potential links to Hinduism and Buddhism.
Q. I am aware that you are a bit versed in Hindi. When did you learn the language and any interesting experience regarding that?
Zakky: Ah yes! I spent time learning Hindi independently during my last year of school and tried to continue my studies whilst working at BBC but unfortunately, I simply didn’t find the time in between working full-time and building my first digital media/production company. Learning Hindi and Sinhala (among other languages) is still on the list of things to do.
As I mentioned earlier, I love traveling - I have no doubt when the time feels right, I’ll be living in different countries at different times, building businesses, and experiencing life/culture there. Learning languages such as Hindi leads up to those goals. What’s awesome is that India clearly has a very dedicated Valorant player base. So it’s been nice practicing my Hindi in conversation with Valorant fans!
Q. You have conducted several amazing podcasts with some great guest stars. What were some of the most memorable moments from that?
Zakky: Again, thank you for the compliments, super kind.
We’re still very early in the podcast’s format. The first-ever podcast on Valorant Hub was with my dear friend, Miranda O’Hare, the voice actor behind Skye in Valorant. That was back in November I believe.
Since then, we have done a few collaborations together including co-streaming the Valorant WWFest festival, although the event was somewhat lackluster regarding the Valorant storyline (the event itself was incredibly well done), it was good fun.
Since then, I have collaborated with Mike recently (ValorLeaks) on the Future Earth Podcast which was a lot of fun and upcoming, we’ll be talking with Cynprel about the Valorant lore/storyline which I’m really excited about.
Q. How do you think Riot Games is setting Valorant apart from other esports titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow 6 Siege?
Zakky: Personally, I have honestly had little experience with CS: GO and R6S from both a player and viewer perspective. Both games are clearly very competitive and successful in their own rights.
From what I’ve observed regarding similarities and differences, it’s not necessarily the esports scene itself that will differentiate too much. Generally, with esports, it’s more about the storyline of the teams/players more than it is about the gameplay that audiences follow.
Having said that, Valorant itself will definitely set itself apart from these other titles before too long. I have previously made a video talking about Valorant’s potential to overtake Call of Duty regarding mass/mainstream attention. Simply put, it is mainly Valorant’s narrative and storytelling within the IP that sets it apart from CS: GO and R6S, which is why I’m eager to see more come from the lore aspect of Valorant.
I see a lot of comparisons come up often between the games and perhaps an unpopular opinion is, a lot of games are incredibly similar and demand similar skill sets. This is why so many amazing Valorant pros are former [insert game here] pros. I think oftentimes, comparisons and culture wars between the games are pointless. Realistically, it comes down to 3 general factors: Accessibility of the game, social groups/community, and of course gameplay preference itself.
Q. Which professional team do you think is currently the best in the world?
Zakky: Let’s start off by admitting that I absolutely don’t know! As I’m writing this, I currently have the VCT Masters NA playing in the background with FaZe vs EnVy competing. I’d be lying if I said that the 100T vs SEN game that is coming up soon doesn’t have me excited. Currently, TenZ is filling in for Sentinels and has been performing as TenZ does.
Eventually, I hope to actually be engaged enough to acknowledge and have real personal preferences for teams outside of NA and EU. Although it’s somewhat straying from the original question, I think it’s worth noting that as Valorant Hub - who also runs other gaming outlets online - I wear many different hats. Keeping up to date full-time with all the different aspects of a number of live-service triple-A multiplayer (lore/storyline, esports, gameplay meta, and community culture) - whilst when I was at school, I thought it would be easy - turns out it is pretty much impossible!
Q. Who is your favorite professional esports player?
Zakky: As noted previously, TenZ definitely has me very impressed from an in-game mechanics perspective. Having said that, I am really looking forward to learning more about the pro players within the scene. As someone whose preference is mainly driven by player stories, I’m keen to see more organizers with the resources to do so document their player’s journeys more. I believe 100 Thieves does a good job of this, which is why I’m a fan of 100 Thieves but I think more can be done in the general esports landscape for this.
Q16. What are some of the changes you would like to be implemented in-game?
Zakky: Let’s preface this with, Riot has done a fantastic job in so many ways with Valorant, and honestly, it’s no doubt one of the most unique games I have seen in the past few years regarding organic growth. In a world where a lot of gaming activations can be seen with a #ad tag, it’s been fascinating to watch Valorant dominate organically.
What would I like to see implemented in-game though? I’m hoping to see gameplay progression get rolling, faster, soon. I do believe that Valorant needs to see more variety in experiences than players currently have access to. I think that right now, Search and Destroy for 5 maps is actually ok.
But I’m not sure how long that will last. It seems likely that we’ll see a new map coming up in the next few months which is good - but I think it’s honestly just the start, which is both good but also something to monitor. I would love to see new game modes that are specific to maps like we see in Overwatch and I do believe that the current variety in experiences like this is lacking in Valorant. What is interesting about this is, the current experience itself is so demanding and such a learning curve for most players, Valorant even in its current form has an incredible shelf-life.
To list what I want to see though, here it is Maps, Game Modes (TDM, CTF, etc), Cinema/Theatre/Replay Mode, Social Features like Spectating, Social Media features in the launcher and/or menu - we’re starting to see this already with Patch Notes which is good.
It’s worth noting that some of what I have mentioned above will likely happen as early as this year, whilst others will take a lot more time, which I believe leads us to the next question!
Q. Five years down the line, where do you see Valorant as an FPS game and as an Esports title?
Zakky: Five years opens up a lot of possibilities! It really depends on what the Valorant team plans to do with the game. By then, I really hope that Valorant will at least be starting to transcend its original purpose as a Search and Destroy shooter. I really want Valorant to become a third place. A third-place being a community hub essentially. That will require a lot of social features and more experiences. I don’t see the gameplay mechanics ever-changing too much, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I really hope we will see the game be made more accessible regarding different platforms. I also hope that we will have a healthy amount of storyline and other features that I mentioned previously by 2026. I’ll likely still be around then, so we will see!
Q. Till now Valorant has had 5 acts. Which among them would you consider best both in terms of quality and quantity of content?
Zakky: I think the Act that sticks with me the most is Episode 1: Act 3. This was the first Act that the Valorant team kindly invited Valorant Hub to for Early Access. Whilst that was very important to me from an Early Access experience point of view, it was the content itself that in my opinion made it the most interesting Act that we’d seen.
The main reason being, we saw both a new agent but somewhat more importantly, we also had a new map. I love Skye (hi, Miranda!) obviously but the game desperately needed more map experiences, and Riot clearly realized this, which is why they fast-tracked its release. I do feel that 5 months later, we’re at a similar point of needing a new map for a fresher gameplay experience.
From a storyline perspective, Icebox and the Samurai led us to Episode 2: Act 1 which is probably my second favorite act from a content/marketing point of view. Yoru is a badass and the team did a great job of showing him off as one.
Q. What would be your top 3 tips for an upcoming video game content creator?
Zakky: Don’t do it.
I’m only half-joking here. Being a full-time content creator and business owner today, as someone who dreamed of doing this since I was a teen, is both absolutely exactly what I expected and totally not what I expected.
Personally, I have chosen this career and continue to pursue it every single day by choice, but it is not a 9 to 5 job. For reference, I am someone who worked a 9 to 5 at the largest media corporation in the world (BBC) working on regional programming for BBC Wales and some of the most legacy IPs in the world - ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Sherlock’, so my answer here stems from my own experience.
Regarding real tips or advice, it’s totally subjective all based on one’s situation. My advice for someone who is studying in a school in the US is different from someone who is studying at university in India and again different to someone working a full-time job with a family in the UK.
Regardless of life situation/circumstance, my advice would be to actually take time to understand what one’s mission is within content creation and what it truly takes to complete that mission. Oftentimes, I find people aren’t actually passionate about content creation so much as they are passionate about either playing the game or watching someone else play it and the rewards that come with it.
The reality of my own job is essentially building a live service that connects people who are interested in one topic (in this case Valorant) into a community and then providing everything I possibly can to please/help the community. Building a community itself requires everyday work. There are no weekends. There are no holidays or birthdays when you’re building something with a no-excuses approach.
My 20th birthday was spent running up spreadsheets to organize the next week of content and video editing. My 21st birthday was the same. National holidays like Christmas Day and New Year are the most work-intensive times of the year. It sounds amazing doing this in gaming until there really is a lack of breaks or time off. As a self-employed person, I have two bosses; myself and the market. If I take a day off, the market will respond - which means fewer views, less money, less business/career/financial momentum - which is definitely tough at times, remember that not all YouTubers are rich.
It helps when you have a team behind you, which I have had on some projects, but paying both part-time and full-time wages to others can be very difficult and stressful and I definitely can’t afford this for every project I run (currently). I think simply explaining the reality of the job is the most helpful advisory message I can give.
If someone is reading this and they’re truly aspiring to provide value to a community that they believe could benefit from their presence in the community, simply show up every day and be helpful. Being helpful means learning skills that aren’t already a commodity and applying.
Like mentioned before, I was 11 when I first started video editing - it’s a skill that I’ve carried on professionally and has allowed me to communicate with millions of people around the world. It requires time, energy, and consistent effort to build the skills needed to provide value to people. This leads to the next question nicely!
Q. What do you feel is going to the future of the channel down the line?
Zakky: The mission for Valorant Hub since day one has been to be ‘The Hub’ for Valorant fans. This is similar to most of my projects - it’s always about providing everything I possibly can to communities.
The future for Valorant Hub as I see it is to build up the resources to onboard more people into the Valorant ecosystem and thereafter develop services, products, and resources for the fans.
Having grown up online during my teenagehood, I observed the fascinating development of online networks such as YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Mixer, TikTok, etc intertwine and become a hub for gamers worldwide. Watching the relationship between the fans of games, publishers/developers, and community leaders/influencers develop has truly been amazing and honestly changed my life.
I am personally inspired by everything I have seen evolve over the past decade and it has become clear to me that like we see in-game meta shift and swing there is definitely a meta around content and services too - I believe this is based on the attention meta.
Personally, it’s important to acknowledge and understand the meta because it helps me understand where myself and my business fit into all of it. Understanding the content meta has allowed me to step back and consider where there are gaps in content to be filled.
Years before Valorant launched, I’d acknowledged that my priorities have shifted since being a teenager, from being a gamer to a content creator/business owner. With this, I knew I wouldn’t be doing pro guides or montages with my own pro plays. The first month of Valorant Hub was therefore myself posting every detail I possibly could about Valorant from an information/educational approach. I was posting five to ten times a day, reporting on every bug, every community complaint, every Valorant pro/streamer opinion, and every news topic relevant to Valorant fans.
I did this to build a community of people who care about Valorant. No one else at the time was publishing the amount of content I was posting at the quality/rate/consistency/relevancy I was doing and this is where I knew there was an open opportunity.
It’s really rare to build a channel from zero subscribers in a community where no one knows your name into a trusted hub and so when it happens, I seize the opportunity. Of course, since then I have branched out to docuseries videos, Future Earth News, Future Earth Podcast, Early Access content, etc.
The future plans are to continue to build the current content/service portfolio and to expand it drastically. I really want to build the Valorant Hub esports portfolio through different services like apps/software that help players improve game sense and mechanics. Eventually, Valorant Hub will see large-scale content, products, and services that will serve casual and competitive audiences across multiple different platforms.
Right now we’re on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, and Discord. I still don’t believe I’m utilizing any of these platforms to their full capacities for Valorant Hub… and there are still platforms like Spotify, Snapchat, Soundcloud, Deezer, and whatever else is important in the future as tech continues to evolve that Valorant Hub will eventually work on.
It’s probably pretty clear that I have lots of passionate ideas for Valorant Hub. I really can’t wait to bring them to life, one step at a time and I hope those who continue to support Valorant Hub can enjoy it all, every step of the way. I really do love the community that has been built around Valorant Hub and truly appreciate everyone’s support, every single day, thank you!