[IGEC 2021] Riot Keynote: "...[my] job isn't to put out fires, it's to look for flammable things"

In an exclusive IGEC keynote address delivered on Thursday, Alex Francois, Global Head of Competitive Operations at Riot Games talked about the process of building VALORANT into a Global Esport. Francois formerly worked for the NFL before making the leap over to esports with Riot Games. His presentation offered insights into how the VCT was formed in the midst of COVID and what steps Riot is taking to ensure competitive integrity for the future of VCT.

He was joined by the Director of Corporate Strategy at Inven Global Nick D'Orazio, who helped guide the exploration of VALORANT esports.

Here are some of the highlights from the presentation

Exploring VALORANT Esports with Alex Francois

Source: Riot Games

Thursday's presentation took place during the first VCT international LAN in Reykjavik. In the midst of VALORANT's biggest competition yet, Francois discussed the challenges of building this report from the ground up. He mentioned a number of challenges that have including the pandemic, balancing regional needs, as well as the format and competitive integrity hurdles.

"As far as things that keep me up at night, we have this phrase we used at the NFL, basically if you are working in competitive VALORANT operations, your job isn't to put out fires, it's to look for flammable things," he explained. "So early on, I was essentially like, what are our biggest risks? In FPS, it is, unfortunately, cheating, in some regions, it's throwing matches. . . I knew these things would be threats to our sport, so we leaned in really hard to make sure we were protected in those ways. . . anyone on our team isn't up at night worrying, if there is something that worries you, we get a plan in place, we get a backup plan in place." 


"When we are talking about putting on an event [there are a lot of tensions to balance]," Francios said. "There are resource conversations, what we can actually do. Then there are design ambitions, how big can we go. Then you have me saying 'hey we need some type of robust format, we need things are that are good for the integrity of the players and the teams' it's kind of balancing all those things to get to a good spot. There will always be trade-offs, and some subset of the community where they feel like we are coming short."

During his presentation, Francois also emphasized the importance of involving players in the decision-making process, to ensure their needs are met at every part of the process.

"We talked to players, most of the folks on my team have developed those relationships all around the world," he stated. "And then we send out surveys too. After every major event, we survey everyone. Even at open qualifiers, with as many as 2000 teams, you are getting a survey. We want to know what you think."

His keynote also addressed the ongoing VCT Iceland LAN and the importance of global competition. 

"One of the reasons the [VCT Iceland LAN] was so the hype is because we played online for a year, it was strictly regional, and every region got to think they were the best region in the world," Francois explained. "You usually don't go that long without regions playing against each other. So we basically had these narratives for a year the EU is the best, NA is the best, Brazil is the best."

According to Francois, Riot is currently managing about 20 regional circuits he indicated they are hoping for more in the near future. 

All-in-all the keynote offered a peek behind the curtain at the challenges Riot's competitive operations team faces and all the thought and effort that goes into hosting our favorite professional esports events.

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