By Dean Takahashi, Venture Beat
By any measure, League of Legends has been an enormous success for Riot Games for more than a decade. But when it comes to the diversity of the esports stars in the multiplayer online game, it’s clear that women are missing. And since the company is more aware of diversity issues than it has been in the past, Riot is taking a more proactive approach to its next big esports game, Valorant.
Valorant has a lot going for it. Riot recently announced that its team shooter game has reached 14 million monthly active PC players and half a billion games played in its first year. The new Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) in North America is hitting new peaks with each event, with more than 8.7 million hours of tournaments watched, 360,000 peak viewers, an average of 560,000 viewers each minute, and similar good results for regional events. Riot Games is still investing heavily ahead of making profits with Valorant, just as it has done with League of Legends.
But Valorant is different from League of Legends in another respect, as about 30% to 40% of the players are female, said head of esports partnerships Matthew Archambault said in an interview with GamesBeat. One reason that has happened is that times have changed, Riot has matured since being accused of sexism in the past, and it can put more resources toward making sure the ecosystem is diverse.
“If you look at the FPS space, that’s kind of amazing because if you look at other FPS titles, you can see they are mostly men,” Archambault said. “We wanted to ensure that we could create this very welcoming experience for women and marginalized genders.”
And to stoke their interest in Valorant esports, Riot Games announced in February it was creating the Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) Game Changers program. It’s an esports tournament initiative to supplement the competitive season by highlighting women and people of marginalized genders. Riot wants these events to foster an inclusive environment for competition and create safe opportunities for women to compete without fear of identity- or gender-based harassment. After all, esports is something where the sexes should be equal, since, unlike in traditional sports, there isn’t a difference between men and women when it comes to playing a computer game with a mouse and keyboard. There isn’t a physical difference that explains why there aren’t enough women in esports.
“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, an event producer at Riot Games and head of the Game Changers Initiative. “That’s the reality, and I think it is a huge bummer and missed opportunity. We’ve had females enter and come into the pro scene on League of Legends. 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.”
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