I am just a faithful player who is genuinely interested in Riot's view on the current state of this issue.
I'm going to give you my thoughts on the subject. While I do work for Riot(almost a year now!) this is the opinion of someone who has worked in FPS's, played competitively, and now works on Valorant. While I may have insight in the game and what's going on, and of course I'm speaking as the competitive designer, this isn't an "OFFICIAL RIOT STANCE"; I don't think the statements you're making have a "This is the answer" because a lot of this is immeasurable and without data to support anything. I will just give you what I think is happening, or what I've seen over my time in the games space.
A great example of this is how do you measure the "Mechanical Skill" levels of a game? The answer is you don't, at least we don't know how right now. Plus you would have to be able to pull data from multiple games, and publishers that aren't willing to share that data with each other even if they did have it. Right now there is just a lot of "I think this game is harder/easier based off X, Y, Z" which can lead to great discussions but does not do anything in furthering this topic. I almost didn't want to write out as detailed of an answer I'm about to give because of this very idea. At the end of the day why does it matter? If the game is fun, and you enjoy it, and people enjoy watching it, it doesn't matter how complex or non-complex it is. The focus shouldn't be on "Why is this game more mechanically complex" and should be "Am I enjoying this game more then the other". Sure if the sole deciding factor is you wanting to know which is more difficult, then I think there are probably more underlying bias's in the decision(Like just favoring one over the other).
I agree with you but I am interested in why this inconsistency is so pronounced in Valorant compared to other e-sports games like CS:GO or Rocket League in which the skill gap between the top 5% of players and the very best is astonishingly high. Is it because Valorant rewards mechanical skill less much than these games?
I don't see this at all, I see alot of people THINK there is inconsistency without evidence. Immortal is top 1% of all players, diamond is still in the top 5%. So I would say that low Diamond to Radiant is a decent skill gap. Do I think it's possible that a Diamond player could have a good day and beat a Radiant, absolutely! Do I think that means Valorant has an issue with skill expression and mechanical skill requirements to play the game? No, that's ridiculous. I think my point that people can play in a wide range of skill, having good or bad days, is very valid.
You won the DM or you outperformed TenZ in your gunfights against him? Regardless, I think TenZ cares less about a DM than a competitive match and I highly doubt he bottom fragged.
I was just providing my personal evidence of an encounter where TenZ didn't perform well. We even see it on stream. Just because I like to DM a ton, and maybe don't have the game sense to compete at a high level with TenZ, doesn't mean I can't win aim duels against him.
This is also a poor comparison because chess is a strategy game which revolves entirely around cerebral skill.
Technically I think chess is closer then actual sports, when comparing to video games. Video games are all cerebral, with maybe requiring fine motor skill and reaction time not required in something like Chess. Someone can pick up a game and become a pro within a year, where as sports often requires a huge physical demand and can be very strict in the genetics department. Not saying genetics doesn't play a part in gaming either, but things as simple as height even effect your skill in sports.
I know this comparison isn't perfect but I would be willing to bet that the answer will be no 100% of the time regardless of his teammates, his team's effort, the opposing team's effort, etc.
continuing off my paragraph above, I think this is a bad comparison. Lebron is going to be way more physically in shape, have had a lifetime dedicated to perfecting this with multi-million dollar staff that have studied and built "How to build the perfect athlete" with the past 100+ years of learnings. Maybe in 100 years we will be able to do the same with esport athletes, but the physical fitness requirement is just so massive in sports. This is a big maybe because we need to learn more about the brain, because physical fitness isn't even a current requirement to be good in games.(we aren't even sure how age has a factor, we just found out reaction time might not decay like we thought it did)
Is this not indicative of Valorant lacking a significant mechanical skill gap?
Not at all. Reaction time peaks, take anyone above Diamond(maybe even plat) and I'm willing to be they have similar reaction time even to radiant players. We can't measure aim too well, I mean aim labs and aim trainers are probably the closest thing we have. So I can't make an assumption on aiming, but I'd be willing to bet aiming skill also peaks somewhere(or has diminishing returns). I think at higher ranks it's less of "When I peak will I land the flick" and more of "How consistently will I land that flick after I peak". A plat/diamond player can beat a Radiant in a duel, because they will sometimes land the flick just as fast/faster then the radiant. But if you made them do it over and over the Radiant would come out on top.
Do you think it's a good thing that a Gold-Diamond player is able to (sometimes) compete against the best players in the game?
Again, I don't think this is a problem. In Warzone you can go kill NickMercs or TimTheTatMan tonight, if you got the drop on them. You can watch some of the best players in that game go an entire night without winning one BR. That's FPS games. I've played with top players in the world in shooters and watched them bottom frag in COD, PUBG, CSGO, Unreal Tournament, Quake, etc. When the only requirement is react fast(which is something almost all high level players even out in), aim accurately, and "do you have the drop?", I think it's pretty easy to see how just a few factors can go right or wrong to have a good/bad game. Even in the days before match making and you just had server selection, the best players would play against the worst and sometimes the worst would show up. I remember plenty of insta-gib servers in unreal tournament running into "pro players"(which didn't really exist back then outside of Fatal1ty) and beating them, as a scrub 8 year old.
We really need evidence of these things happening, because a "feeling" or a few people saying "Oh this mechanic makes this game easier/harder" is just setting you up for confirmation bias. At the end of the day you are going to be aiming at a head and clicking, and you are going to be doing faster or slower then your opponent. You play by the same rules, one of you is going to mechanically be better. I have seen arguments of "Valorant is higher skill" or "CSGO is higher skill" honestly they are just different and people have their preferences. You approach both games as shooters, and maybe there is lots of basic skill overlap, but you have to have to actually think about moment to moment very differently in both games. Again, as my point above, I think that's amazing and exciting!
These things exist in CS:GO and other games as well. It doesn't explain why Valorant in particular feels so inconsistent.
To me, and lots of other people, I don't feel this inconsistency. If Valorant was inconsistent ranked would also be very inconsistent. People would not get hard stuck, they would fluctuate in extreme ways. You would go from being bronze, to gold, to silver, to iron, etc. We don't see this, most people get to a rank and stick around that rank for a long time and slowly improve with more matches and time invested. Inconsistency would be reflected in our data, in players ranked movements, and our match maker would be EXTREMELY inaccurate because it wouldn't be able to gauge where anyone belongs. But our match maker is accurate, and we see that players do settle in a certain skill area because consistency does exist. This isn't to shout out our match maker, it's just a way you would see your statement that Valorant is inconsistent, or ranks are in a sense "meaningless of skill definition"(which is basically what you are poking at I think?).
Lastly I think you also have to look at it this way. Valorant is EXTREMLY young. The communities you are talking about, especially CSGO, have been around for years if not over a decade. The community hasn't even figured out Valorants true meta, regions are just starting to interact with eachother, and the community as a whole is getting better extremely fast because the game is so young. Valorant a year ago is very different then today, but you can't say that for a game like CSGO where the game has been figured out and the whole community knows how the game should be played.
This can be seen by saying things like "There is 0 chance a player doesn't know how to counter strafe as a GE in CSGO". The community hasn't had those line in the sands drawn yet, hasn't fully figured out the requirements and strategies expected of certain ranks. I mean league of legends in the past 5 years has just really solidified what it means to manipulate waves of minions, that took almost 6 years before that was a required strategy for anything below the top players(now it's something even gold players know).
(continued in reply, I hit limit)