[Opinion] VALORANT Game Changers is just a band-aid when it comes to sexism and inclusion

Source: Riot Games


I don’t think I had the reaction I was supposed to have when Riot announced their all-female VALORANT Champions Tour Game Changers event. 


But I’ll be honest here. I thought, “Oh my lord, not another all-female tournament. I thought we were done with these.” 


VALORANT has been one of the most inclusive and forward-thinking esports to date. After not seeing more than two or three female players competing in mainstream tournaments in other esports, it was refreshing to see Evil Geniuses announce a mixed-gender roster and Cloud9 White sporting an all-female squad, both of which would compete in First Strike and other VALORANT events throughout 2021. Cloud9 White has already seen a lot of success early on. 


But now it feels like VALORANT is taking a step back. 


In the video introducing VCT Game Changers, VALORANT executive producer Ana Donlon stated that Game Changers is an initiative to “elevate the women in the VALORANT competitive community.” According to Donlon, women need these types of events because they are often at a “competitive disadvantage.” 


It’s no secret that women are harassed online, objectified at esports events, and left feeling like they don’t belong in the competitive gaming scene. For many women, these all-female events are a non-threatening and welcoming way to enjoy competitive gaming without these added pressures and mistreatment. That’s why VCT Game Changers exists — a positive response from participants of Riot’s past all-female tournaments. 


But these events are just a band-aid when it comes to addressing sexism and inclusion in esports. 


I personally feel uncomfortable with women being showcased and spotlighted within the esports community. Instead of normalizing women’s existence in this space, it acts as a sort of “virtue signal,” where developers, event organizers, and esports teams can pat themselves on the back for presenting women to the public. 


Women will only feel truly included in esports when they are treated the same as the men and are competing in traditional tournaments.


Riot faced backlash in 2018 when they decided to applaud themselves for having women at the League of Legends All-Stars event. Instead of simply welcoming the women to simply compete on-stage with the men, Riot felt the need to highlight their presence with a slightly condescending series of interviews. While these women are awesome and deserve praise for what they do, this honestly came across as alienation. 


The women couldn’t just compete and stream at the event — Riot had to let the world know that they were rare and special. This is something that the women should have done on their own (if they wished) or something that should have been highlighted by an outside media outlet. Riot doing it themselves put the women at the event on display. It took the women’s involvement in the tournament from inclusive to sideshow. 


This mindset is what made Overwatch League’s only female pro, Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, avoid the spotlight. While covering the Overwatch League (when in-person events still existed), Shanghai Dragons made it quite clear that Geguri was off-limits when it came to interviews. Geguri told ESPN that while she’s “grateful” for being an icon due to her sex, it was “not how I want to be known.” 


Instead of expecting applause for the mere creation of an all-female roster, organizations should make the announcements and subsequent news of the team the same they would for any team, regardless of sex. Leave the quotes about being women to the publications that wish to pursue this angle.  Women will only feel truly included in esports when they are treated the same as the men and are competing in traditional tournaments. 


While Counter-Strike: Global Offensive veteran Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey once revealed to me the disturbing amount of sexism she faced at the hands of her opponents while playing for a mixed roster in a traditional event, she gained most of the respect she has in the field due to her skills while competing against men.


Instead of being treated as a novelty or icon, missharvey was seen as a tough competitor who couldn’t be knocked down or scared away. She had raw mechanical prowess that she could prove in any setting. 


Said missharvey: “Toxicity is another factor. Men can be really aggressive when they play against women, something that also happens in chess. It’s not just a gaming problem. It’s really a competitive and societal problem. When males play women in anything they can become extremely aggressive and take a lot of risks. Even irrational ones, which can be really heavy to play against.”


All-female tournaments are great for women who want safety. But they will not grant women inclusivity.


Of course, it’s unfair to tell women that they all must have thick skin. That’s blaming the victim. The men who harass women at tournaments are the real problem. And the only way to get them to stop is to make female presence the norm. When women are seen as mere competitors and event-goers — instead of a special occurrence — the amount of hate they will receive will lessen. 


I’ve had my fair share of sexism and hostility at competitive Pokemon TCG events. I’ve been treated like I’m just “somebody’s girlfriend” by competitors, only to have them slam their chair in rage when they find out I have what it takes to win. I’ve had male competitors even try to lecture me mid-match, trying to “teach” me because they subconsciously don’t believe I’d ever be a threat or a real opponent. And I’ve had men try to bully me into not making certain moves, claiming it’s illegal or impossible, only to call the judge when I won’t back down from that choice (just to be told that I’m allowed to do it). 


But I don’t want all-female Pokemon tournaments. I just want women to keep competing. I want the men to get used to their presence and realize running into me isn’t a special occurrence — that I’m just another opponent with just as much potential as anyone else at my level. 


Watching the Cloud9 White team face off against veteran opponents (and defeat the Renegades) gave me life. And I am personally disheartened by VALORANT’s need to keep pushing these all-female events. While it will definitely be a showcase of some of the best women in the esport and a great chance for everyone to feel supported and welcomed, I fear it will alienate those participants further. 



Some VALORANT fans will not believe the competitors will have a chance in traditional tournaments. And they might even hope for all-female events to continue in order to keep women away from traditional events. I would much prefer if more women were encouraged to compete in those traditional events, even if they have a disadvantage because they would be paving the way for women to NOT face these disadvantages in the future. 


All-female tournaments are great for women who want safety. But they will not grant women inclusivity.

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