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Game Changers: How Valorant Is Making Esports More Inclusive

"Valorant" immediately attracted FPS fanatics with the promise of tactical gameplay with special abilities. For "League of Legends" fans, Riot Games being behind the wheel was already a selling point, too. Little did players realize at the beginning that Riot would invest in marketing its latest esport to women and supporting a legitimate women's esports initiative in the process. The Valorant Champions Tour Game Changers program is one of its most successful programs focused on achieving that.

Women are still struggling to get a foot into the esports space. However, "Valorant" in particular has especially succeeded in giving women visibility. In an interview with GamesBeat, head of esports partnerships Matthew Archambault revealed that between 30% to 40% of the player base is female. This greatly differs from other first-person shooters and Riot's other games like "League of Legends." Archambault credits this to Riot's latest efforts to invest resources toward nurturing diversity in its esports league. 

Here's what VCT Game Changers is doing to make esports more inclusive.

Supporting women from the start

One of the main ways Game Changers plans to support women is by getting back to basics and really supporting them from the beginning. In other words, making them feel welcome so that they can at least compete and be seen. "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," Shelby Ulisse, Head of the Game Changers Initiative, told GamesBeat. "We want to see mixed teams, we want to see all of those teams and a variety of different people represented."

Notably, those behind the initiative didn't want to force women to compete in a separate competitive league. Riot Games created the Valorant Champion Tour "Game Changers" as a women-only tournament where women could compete. However, it's a supplement to the normal VCT programming. Ulisse notes that it's just another way to gain more visibility and increase the fan base for women. Game Changers competitors can also participate in the standard VCT league.

Esports organizations that enter a women's team in the VCT (non-Game Changers) will also be able to enter another separate team, making it less of a risk to bet all their winnings on the female team only. For example, Cloud9 created the first "Valorant" esports team. Cloud9 White, which unfortunately disbanded, made headlines as the first women's esports team for the game, though many others have followed suit. In short, it's clear that Riot and the creators of "Valorant" are invested in rooting for women in its esports league.

Working together with players

Game Changers is also an opportunity to receive feedback from women on how to make the game more comfortable for them.

Gradl, a player who benefitted from the program, spoke to Eurogamer about how it helped her and her team. "The organization gave us their full support, including a coach and a full training schedule to help us sharpen our skills," Gradl says. "Game Changers and other tournaments have been a major success in creating opportunities and exposure for women and marginalized genders within Valorant. Prior to their inception, I feel the support was underwhelming and something definitely needed to change.

Overall, Game Changers isn't just an ambitious program that not only allows women to compete at a competitive level. It also offers other valuable support for casting, coaching, growing a fanbase, and more — everything that can help marginalized identities succeed as a "Valorant" esports professional.