League of Legends creators Riot have gone through their fair number of scandals – more than once, for example, the company has been accused of discrimination and sexism. There is some truth to it, however, the company has been taking active steps to better themselves recently. To this end, they’ve started really looking at how they can Riot empowering women make the game environments of their flagship titles – Valorant and League of Legends – more hospitable for female players.
It was high time – especially after a former employee sued the CEO of Riot for sexual harassment in January this year. This came after they settled a gender-discrimination lawsuit for $10 million in 2019, among other issues. The company has since hired a chief diversity officer, but that’s not all – the company has also made some dedicated efforts to support female player playing their games.
Valorant especially has a relatively high percentage of female players. Around 35% are female according to Matthew Archambault, the head of esports partnerships. That’s unusually high for an FPS title, and it means that there are several million female players among the overall 14 million PC players active monthly alone. More than half a billion games have been played in the first year since the game released – and a third of the participating players was (and is) female.
It would be remiss of Riot not to support minority groups playing their game – and given the long history of sexism in video games in general and with Riot in particular, it’s good to see that the company is in fact living up to that expectation.
“We wanted to ensure that we could create this very welcoming experience for women and marginalized genders.” Said Archambault. They’ve already started with this – the first step was announcing the Valorant Champions Tour Game Changers program in February. This tournament initiative aims to highlight female players, among others. The idea is to create a safe and inclusive environment for the competitions… without harassment.
“I worked on [League of Legends Championship Series] LCS for a really long time as well. And there are no female players,” said Shelby Ulisse, head of the Game Changers Initiative. “That’s the reality, and I think it is a huge bummer and missed opportunity. […] And so this time around, we were like, ‘That can’t happen again.’ We need to make sure that from the beginning, from the inception of what this esport is, women are at the forefront of our mind, because we want to see mixed teams, we want to see all of those teams and a variety of different people represented.”
Riot explicitly doesn’t want to create a separate league for female players, but rather make it possible for women to take part in the normal league without any of the harassment and toxicity they face purely for not being men.
In addition to the already launched VCT Game Changers series they also created a rule exception that allows organisations to enter two teams into the VCT if one of them is all-female. The stand out all-female Valorant team is, of course, Cloud 9s C9 White. There is also the Game Changers Academy – it will host monthly tournaments aimed at a grassroots and semi-pro level.
The VCT Game Changers Academy program is “more about those that are still in the pipeline who definitely could grow into the pro scene, but aren’t quite there yet,” Ulisse said. Similarly, Riot has chosen 6 female Valorant players to train as future casters for the game, in order to drive interest in that too. The idea is to encourage more women to pursue esports by giving them positive role models they can relate to.
“We’re creating this ecosystem, where it’s not just also about bringing women to be a professional gamer, but also getting them into the space into coaching or into production or into casting,” Archambault said.