- Dec 11, 2018
Out of the corner of your eye, a flash of light appears. For a second you pause, peeking with your gun, only a single enemy left on the opposing team. Before you catch your bearings, she's rushing at you, her distinct white hair coming ever closer. You fire but she's already lifting into the sky, your shot whizzing into a wall as her trademark throwing knives fall into place for the final dagger to your team.
As you reload, it's already over, the only thing left staring back at you a greyed-out screen of defeat -- game over.
"When we started making Jett, our roster was stacked with a slew of strategic and supportive agents," Bobby Prochnow, game designer on VALORANT at Riot Games told ESPN. "We had a clear product deficiency: we needed someone you could lock in to mechanically outplay your opponents with style."
From that thought process, the idea of the South Korean air assassin was first born, with the developers wanting to create a character that brought high mobility and high agency into their tactical shooter. Their goal was to create an agent with an "unreachable" mechanical skill ceiling. If they couldn't come up with an agent with the capabilities of taking down a team one-on-five in the hands of the right player, then it would be considered a failure.
While their goal never shifted from creating a high-mobility assassin, her original concept had nothing to do with bending the wind to her will. Before that, she was actually going to be known as the "Grapple Thief."
"Yep, her first kit centered around a grappling hook as her touchstone ability. No boost, no dash, no daggers. Just a grappling hook and other tech gadgetry," Prochnow said. "But as the character really started to take form, we were struggling to land a power source for her that we could get excited about. Most of our roster already relied heavily on technology, and we wanted to make a character that had intrinsic powers - what we now call a Radiant."
After pivoting, they ripped up their assassin's grappling-based arsenal (possibly saving it for a future agent, Prochnow teased) and went back to work, eventually starting to create the Jett we know today. Her kit, which like all other playable agents includes three abilities and an ultimate, has stayed more or less the same since they came up with the wind concept, only upgrading a skill here and there.
Jett's first equippable ability, Cloudburst, is straightforward and to the point. She throws a projectile that creates a cloud of fog on impact. Her second, Updraft, is where the fun begins, allowing Jett to propel herself upwards after a brief wind up, allowing for aerial snipes and creative positioning.
Her signature, Tailwind, was one of the humorous bugs that Prochnow and the developer team had to work through to get Jett playable. While it now allows Jett to immediately dash into the direction you're moving to allow for quick entrances or exits, that wasn't always the case. When they were still working through the kinks, there was a point during her development where she was dash-boosting at the speed of light across the entire map.
[Helpful Jett Tip for Beginners: Jett is decently vulnerable after her dash because she has to re-equip her weapon, which makes it more powerful as an escape than an engage tool. The real power lies in her ability to take aggressive fights and dash out before getting trade killed -- Bobby Prochnow, Game Designer on VALORANT]
When it comes to Jett's ultimate, it's all about putting the final touches on an opponent with a stylish and clean finish with a possibility for a chain of eliminations. Known as Blade Storm, Jett arms herself with a series of throwing knives that deal moderate damage to the body and kill on headshots. If she can secure a kill with one of her blades, the knives will restore, allowing for Jett to use her untouched mobility to turn a lost round into a show-stealing victory.
Asked on what type of players from Riot's flagship title, League of Legends, should pick up Jett as their main agent, Prochnow had some foreboding words for all who want to try her.
"In the right hands, she can out-skill her way through any situation with elegance and grace," Prochnow declared. "In the wrong hands, she's a dashing potato that forces your team to 4v5. Welcome home, Yasuo mains."
Growing up, Prochnow was a fan of Counter-Strike 1.6, having vivid memories of watching players like Kyle "KSharp" Miller with his precise AWP skills and Emil "HeatoN" Christensen ruling over the scene with his godlike control. The one professional player that he has always held a special respect for is American Corey "Hanes" Hanes who played for various teams throughout his career, including Evil Geniuses in 2008.
He remembers Hanes and his movement speed, which separated himself from other players he was playing against. Prochnow remembers a memorable game where the CS pro turned a lost round on its head by smoothly bunny hopping onto boxes and taking out his one-on-one opponent the millisecond he peeked his head out. The speed, the quickness, and the style stuck in Prochnow's head for what he wanted to see from the future of first-person shooters. From that one play over a decade ago in a series that has moved onto a new edition, the first few pieces of Jett were coming together in the future designer's head.
"That's the dream," Prochnow said. "From the very beginning, I wanted to make an agent that could inspire a new generation of Haneses."
Riot knew they had to do right when creating their first agent from South Korea, the country that has won a majority of its world championships in League of Legends. The studio worked with its South Korean office when it came to making Jett as authentically Korean as possible, ultimately bringing them to the perfect person to represent the charismatic knives-dealer, Korean pop singer Shannon.
"Shannon not only brought a cultural authenticity to the character, but a demographic authenticity," Zach Betka, Senior Narrative Writer on VALORANT at Riot Games said. "She walked in on day one of our session already a hardcore FPS player, we didn't have to do any work onboarding her to the type of game we were making."
When actors come in to perform their lines for an agent, the script is a collaborative process. "We cast people who are from the culture of the character, so it would be ridiculous to think that I know more about what it means to be South Korean (or Russian, English, Chinese, Swedish, etc) than these actors," Betka said. The game's talent director David Lyerly and the agent's actor then begin riffing lines and finding the core personality for the character, where then they start creating a script that fits the proper speech style and attitude. They would go through situations with Shannon, wanting to capture her sincere expressions on how Jett would react to certain things, such as the euphoria of clutching out a round against the odds or the rage of getting sniped from seemingly out of nowhere.
In her purest form, Jett is VALORANT's queen of mobility with a devil-may-care attitude. The designers, developers and writers wanted to mold an agent that embodied what the game is all about -- breaking barriers and defying the limits of the sandbox that is the traditional first-person shooter. They've developed their Counterstrike esports heroes into this new game, where the beauty of the past is there coupled with the style and fluidity of the future, trying to create something entirely new in the genre.
"Jett is a tough, powerful, no-holds-barred young woman who brings her culture and power to the battlefield," Betka said. "She demands you [to] be as good as you can be while playing her. And if you succeed, she'll let you, and the enemy team, know it."
Jett's aerial assassin abilities make her one of the most powerful agents in Valorant -- or an absolute throw pick. Tyler Erzberger talked to Riot to see how they designed her.