With its first official Riot Games tournament, First Strike, on aim, VALORANT locks in to establish itself in the esports scene.
Brand and Marketing Manager of VALORANT EU Zanne Wong shares her role in the process of consolidating the shooter as a staple in the gaming scene, discussing the importance of female representation, and how she got to a prestige position at Riot Games.
Can we have a brief introduction of yourself?
I am a Brand and Marketing Manager for the European Team at Riot Games, and basically, what this means is that we take care of products like the LEC, and EU Masters. My function specifically extends into content, social media, marketing, and creative branding. I know that sounds like a lot, but that’s what I take care of [laughs]
Personally, I have always been a gamer. I know that sounds super cliche, but I used to play everything from Age of Empires, The Sims, all the way to Counter-Strike 1.6. In season two, or three, I transitioned into League of Legends, and that has been my staple game for a while. When VALORANT came out, since Riot Games allowed us to test it, I was just obsessed.
I grew up in a family of gamers. Some of them are streamers, some of them have played semi-professionally.
That’s incredible. What do you think your family sees now that you’re working in the video games industry since their background is so into gaming? I bet they are so proud!
It took a while before my parents understood what I did. They thought I was “Making” video games, the typical job. They kind of get it now, I think. My siblings are the ones that really understand what I do for a living. My older brother is really into card games, and he also played a lot of Hearthstone, while my younger brother played CS:GO semi-professionally.
Growing up, we did Lan-Parties at home because there were so many of us including our cousins that lived next door. It was a group of nine kids that used to play together all the time, it was so much fun, I miss it. [laughs]
What was your first job in gaming?
My first job was at Redbull, managing their esports channel, which is somewhat similar to what I do now, taking care of all content and media.
Moving on to work with Riot Games, what has that looked like?
Riot contacted me about three years ago, and I was really interested. At the time I was already really into League of Legends, and I loved watching the LCS. When I finally got the job, I was like “holy crap”. I moved to Berlin about two and a half years ago to be with the team, and my work has really developed since. I am just really happy to be here, and I am really excited about all the new products coming out as well.
Now about VALORANT: I think the roots of the scene have been establishing themselves so quickly. Where did the VALORANT team learn from to establish its esports model?
VALORANT is still a really young game. The fact that it has launched its esports in the same year of its release is incredible to me. In 2020, after the beta, we allowed the community to move fast with the game, with the Ignition series we saw the first organizations establishing themselves and running these tournaments. We were testing out what these tournaments could be like, learning about rules, and from community reactions.
What we have learned this year allows us to establish First Strike as the first official event from Riot, setting the tone for how things will be for next year. This year is all about learning, understanding what the community, players, and teams want. First Strike will really help facilitate storyline building as well, and 2021 will be our first year.
I can imagine the pandemic has imposed quite a few challenges on the game’s launch. How did that look like from the marketing perspective?
As you know, we had to pivot in many ways. The learnings we had, as well as learning from other leagues we have, for example, really helped us tackle this situation. I don’t think there is a perfect formula, to be honest. With the pandemic, things change all the time: the restrictions are always different. We have to stand on our feet and adapt, making sure we continue to listen, learn what our needs are, what our fans want, and how teams are handling these situations as well. We have to make sure to create the best experience possible for everyone involved.
It’s challenging and it has really tested our team as a whole, but I feel like we have done quite well so far.
First Strike is the first official tournament, but we have seen so many community tournaments. In the future, how do you see VALORANT spreading its wings? Do you think it’s going to have a model similar to CS:GO, with a lot of third-party leagues, or more similar to Overwatch League?
In 2020 our goal was to understand how we could tackle this model. We just learned so much from the Ignition Series, it helps set the tone for the future approach. We just released the VALORANT Champions Tour, so 2021 is about creating high stakes, helping us establish who the main teams are, but at the same time, with open qualifiers, we can help identify new talent. In First Strike so many “orgless” teams are participating.
2021 will be an interesting year. It will still be a year of learning, it will be our first official year running a year-long event as well, so we will continue to adapt with the pandemic, especially not knowing when things return to usual. We want to establish a tournament that is going to be healthy, so we can figure out how to make it last for years to come.
I always see a lot of women interested in the VALORANT scene, not just in the player capacity, but also talent. To me it feels like even though women are taking space in other esports as well, in VALORANT, they are really allowed to shine more than a lot of other titles. Is maintaining this diversity one of the team’s goals?
Being a woman that knows the game, and plays it a lot, from my perspective, our goal is to make sure we create an environment that is welcoming to all, regardless of your gender, or where you come from. We want to create a safe space for everyone. Not just for the players, but for coaches, teams, casters, people behind the scenes, like myself, too. I don’t know what the future looks like yet, but I can assure you that personally, VALORANT will be a welcoming space for all.
It's very exciting to see so much attention given to women in this space. As you said, it’s not so prevalent in other games and leagues, and it is just heartwarming to see representation in our space.
What do you think a full year of VALORANT esports would look like?
It’s hard to say. I don’t think there is a super formula to what will make it the biggest success, and the most-watched esports in the world, but I hope it is. We’ll just keep trying.
What are your hopes for in the game - as a player?
I want to make sure that the health of the game is maintained. I want people to play this game for decades to come, so it’s important we maintain the excitement, the challenges, a careful balance between challenging enough and exciting enough. Having moments of success, or clutching the game, all those combined are things I hope to continue to improve. My answer is not “I want X agent”, because I don’t think I am qualified to make these decisions, but anything the developer team throws at me, I will try it and see who I like! [laughs]