Phoenix is one of the most recognizable faces in Valorant, even as the cast of agents has since expanded to include 20 different agents across a wide variety of roles.
While he has fallen out of favor in recent months, recent buffs to his kit that allow him to be even more proactive and aggressive have given rise to a minor resurgence of the hot-headed British duelist.
However, the fiery agent was originally supposed to look very different, according to a new developer blog post by Riot Games. He was also one of the earliest agents Riot worked on, dating back all the way to 2017, before there had even been any concept of duelist agents or roles.
The agent also went through multiple design changes leading up to the game’s release. While most people think of Phoenix as a hyper-aggressive duelist who likes to get up close and personal, he didn’t start out that way.
Phoenix’s flash was initially a charge dash
“Phoenix started with this idea of a back-against-the-wall, last-man-standing character who could fight against all odds,” said Technical Game Designer Bobby “excal” Prochnow. “And the ability we were thinking about was his ultimate. We sort of pictured the ultimate ability where you’d have a second life in some form.”
The ultimate would allow Phoenix to revive, much like the firebird of legend, while his health ticked down to 1HP. He also would not be returned to where he physically started the ultimate. Instead, the developers imagined a second-wind scenario where players would be able to use Phoenix’s ultimate to pull an unexpected clutch out of the bag.
Phoenix would also go into a state of invulnerability as he was resurrecting, while still being able to move. This meant that he could push forward and die, revive himself, and still move back behind cover.
But after the first playtest, his ultimate was redesigned to be used proactively instead. “In early tests it became apparent that this is actually an aggressive, gas pedal kind of character who wants to go in first,” said excal.
The new ultimate looked a lot like the one we know today — the agent would use his ultimate to get some entry frags and then revive at his starting location upon death.
Even then, Phoenix’s other abilities still looked very different. Duelists still didn’t exist yet, but the team knew they wanted the agent to be a “self-reliant top fragger.” That rationale was also the key underpinning behind Phoenix’s ability to also heal himself with fire.
But in place of his Curveball flash, Riot initially tested another ability. Jett, Reyna, and Raze all have abilities to get in and out of trouble quickly, and the team headed in the same direction with Phoenix.
“Phoenix actually used to have a charge dash,” excal reveals. “The gimmick with it was that the longer you charged it, the further he could go. He was punishable the whole time and it was a straight line, so he had to be very proactive about it.”
However, it wasn’t long before the developers realized that this was not how they envisioned the agent — Phoenix was not supposed to fly down mid with his dash and rack up kills that way.
The solution turned out to be the flash. While the flash initially went forward in a straight line, the team soon tweaked it to curve around walls, a gameplay necessity that made it a lot more intuitive to use.
Riot then had to figure out how to bring such an explosive, fire-based character to life. They wanted something more nuanced and subtle. After all, Phoenix was no pyromancer or arsonist. The theme they settled on was the sun — bright and hot, but not to the point of burning everything down.
“Early on, I think the idea was to have him in some kind of fire suit. Like a self-contained thing to keep all of his power managed,” said Minoh “SS_Minnow_2017” Kim, Senior Manager of 3D Character Art. “He looked like an astronaut almost at first — a futuristic space dude.”
Then Concept Lead Larry “TheBravoRay” Ray came on board with a concept of him as a “hip dude.” “We also had a couple of people on the team that were big into techwear. So they were pushing this idea because it looks sort of tactical,” added Minoh.
The team ended up throwing out Phoenix’s original design and concept art in 2019, building on TheBravoRay’s initial idea to mold the character into a stylish, fast-talking firestarter.
Today, Phoenix is slowly edging his way back in terms of viability, thanks to the buffs to his Curveball flash. In fact, his flash is very hard to dodge now, said Game Designer Dan “penguin” Hardison, sometimes almost too hard.
You can read the full blog post here.