Preceding the release of Valorant, there was a huge controversy in the gaming world about the game’s approach to anti-cheat, which seemed to take a step back into more draconian times. In this guide, we’re going to cover what you need to know about Riot Vanguard and whether you should be worried about it or not.
Riot Vanguard is the in-house anti-cheat software developed by Riot Games, the creators of Valorant. The unique thing about Riot Vanguard is that it starts up the moment your PC starts instead of when you start the game, and we’ll discuss why this has been controversial in the next section.
The part of Riot Vanguard that operates on startup is the kernel-mode driver, which takes a look at the other drivers that are running when you start up your computer. This kernel-mode driver will take action to block any drivers that it thinks will threaten Riot Vanguard or its ability to function.
This caused concern in the gaming world because Riot Vanguard was originally a little too zealous about the drivers that it blocked. For example, many innocent programs were originally blocked by Riot Vanguard when it was first implemented, including simple tools to check CPU core temperatures.
Also, if you start up Valorant without Riot Vanguard being on since your PC started, you won’t be able to play the game. You may have noticed this the first time that you installed Riot Vanguard so that you could hop into Valorant, since all players have to restart their PCs after installing the software for the first time.
After that, Riot Vanguard will be added to your PC’s startup programs, and it will always be on. If you want to turn off Riot Vanguard, you will need to reboot your PC and have it on from startup so that you’re able to get back into Valorant, which can be a bit of a headache if you’re concerned about your privacy.
The fact that Riot Vanguard runs in kernel mode means that it runs on the most privileged level of PC operations. This is where your system decides to allocate its resources, and every program that runs in kernel mode has the greatest possible degree of control over other programs.
This concerns people because software that operates on the kernel mode can potentially open up your computer to severe security vulnerabilities due to the degree of control that it has. However, Riot Games has an answer to this in the form of a standing $100,000 bounty for people who can find vulnerabilities in Vanguard’s code.
Another thing to consider is that Riot Vanguard isn’t the only piece of anti-cheat software that runs at the kernel level, meaning that it doesn’t inordinately expose you to vulnerabilities in excess of what you’d expect.
Now, you may be thinking that this all sounds pretty reasonable apart from the always-on thing, so what makes Riot Vanguard so much more controversial than other anti-cheat programs? Let’s take a look.
The main thing that concerns people about Riot Vanguard is that it has access to the deepest layers of control over your PC and that it’s always on. While some anti-cheat programs may have one of these features or the other, Riot Vanguard has both and that makes it a security concern to many PC gamers.
At the end of the day, you have no idea what a corporation like Riot is doing with the information that its anti-cheat gathers from your computer. It could be as innocent as trying to further reinforce their anti-cheat or they can be selling any info they gather about your machine wholesale.
When an anti-cheat program starts with Windows, it means that its creators can see exactly what you’re doing on your computer from the start. Other anti-cheat programs will only have access to your machine to such a degree while you’re running the game or at least after you’ve started the game in your session.
Some gamers have mentioned that Riot Vanguard can also cause their computers to overheat, but this isn’t directly due to Riot Vanguard, though it is indirectly responsible. This typically happens when Riot Vanguard blocks third-party programs that gamers use to control their GPU and CPU temps.
Overall, we don’t know what Riot Games is doing with the info that they gather from Riot Vanguard, so we don’t know whether it’s actually as nefarious as people think.