Riot is allowing orgs are pick up secondary female rosters, but what kind of impact will this really have on the competitive scene?
In September 2020, MAJKL made history by winning the FTW Summer Showdown - a female-only VALORANT Ignition Series that consisted of a $50,000 prize pool. Shortly after, they were picked up by Cloud9, forming Cloud9 White and officially becoming the third VALORANT roster for the esteemed North American esports organisation. Back then, while the overwhelming majority of the community were excited about this pickup, many weren’t quite sure how the logistics would work if both teams were to compete in the same VALORANT tournaments.
Riot’s in-house tournaments such as the Ignition Series and First Strike had no rules regarding gender requirements, meaning both men and women players and teams could compete if they wanted to do so. Similarly, localised tournament organisers in North America did not enforce any regulations either, meaning that both Cloud9 and Cloud9 White could indeed compete in the same competition if they wanted to. However, this is not usually how esports have operated in the past.
In the LCS, organisations are encouraged to harness younger talent through their academy teams, but these teams do not compete in the same league as the main teams. This is also very much the case in a variety of titles such as Overwatch, Call of Duty, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).
At the end of 2020, Riot Games reinforced their stance on organisations housing both male and female rosters in the form of the “Concurrent Ownership Policy” stating explicitly: “in the interest of promoting and developing the women’s professional player base, an Esports Organisation may own and operate a Secondary Team that is a Women’s Team without creating a Concurrent Ownership Conflict.” It is unclear whether the female teams will be given a separate tournament circuit or if Riot will be putting on more women-only VALORANT competitions, but the rule change means that more orgs could follow suit and form secondary women’s teams.
The announcement of this new update understandably sparked debates within the community, with hundreds of fans and players taking to the likes of Twitter and Reddit to express their opinions on the matter. One of the biggest talking points is trying to identify whether female players could develop more if they are playing on mixed teams - in comparison to female-only rosters.
One Reddit user said: “Good. Will improve the gender gap in gaming and will incentivise teams to invest in female competitive gaming. Also, a big win for C9, as they can keep both Cloud9 White and Cloud9 Blue. I do dislike the idea that females and males are being segregated, however. While the female player base is smaller, I believe that forcing competition on the same level will lead to better competitive play rather than segregating leagues.”
And another also wrote: “There are good things like females will get more exposure and a better competitive environment but there's also a downside like the cream of female VALORANT players who can duke out with best t1 teams might have to settle for full female roasters and kinda stunt their growth. It's bad for the top 2 percent but better for rest 98 percent and overall scene.”
On the same topic with 164 upvotes, a Reddit user commented: “I think this a decent approach to incentivise organisations to invest in female players in the VALORANT scene. In my opinion, the only potential downside is if this results in an all-female scene separate from the rest of the scene. For the growth of all-female talent, you want the all-female teams to compete in the same tournaments. As a result, there should be potential upward movement of female players. Excited for the potential this ruling could have on the gaming landscape.”
The community’s reaction and concerns seem to frame the new ownership update as a double-edged sword. On one hand, having big and well-known orgs such as Cloud9 invested into female VALORANT means more players will be given opportunities which they otherwise might not get. The female scene will inevitably grow if more tier-one orgs become invested in female rosters which also means more players would have the motivation to go pro. It’s no secret that there are far less not just top-tier but female players in general at the moment, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The likes of 16-year-old Jasmine “Jazzyk1ns” Manankil is a prime example of someone who just needed an opportunity to compete at a high level.
However, the ruling does explicitly stipulate that orgs are only allowed to recruit a secondary women’s-only team, not a mixed one. This will ultimately segregate the female players from the male players, and even if they can compete in the same tournament circuit, it does not negate the fact some top-tier players will be impacted by this. This doesn’t mean that the orgs can’t have a mixed-gendered team alongside a female-only one, but the likelihood of that happening seems extremely low. Many have long debated whether a mixed team could be successful, and it’s usually come down to the fact some of the top-tier female players aren’t as good as their male counterparts. Although Cloud9 White recently pulled off a stunning victory against Renegades - a team that’s currently ranked 72 places above them on vlr.gg.
The barrier of entry when it comes to top-level esports should, in theory, be purely based on skills, of course, there are many factors that can stop a high-level player from making it, such as team chemistry or adaptability but gender isn’t something that determines how good someone is. Therefore, it seems many would prefer some form of integration between female and male players as opposed to a female-only league or female-only circuits. While mixed teams are extremely rare, especially in the west, VALORANT could potentially be the title that normalises this.
In Europe, a team called corgi was formed back in November, featuring former Overwatch player Ivo “Linepro” Kolev and a young Irish female prodigy named juseu. She’s the only female player on a roster of four other males, and even though the roster is fairly new and largely considered as a tier-two team, the mild-mannered juseu has managed to catch the attention of her peers through her skills and abilities in-game. Corgi will be put to the test at the VALORANT Champions Tour, and many will likely look to this team as one that is able to successfully integrate male and female players if they were to put on some good showings. There is no doubt that juseu is more than good enough to be picked up by female rosters, but it’s interesting to see that she’s chosen to go down the route of playing with male players instead. Only time will tell if she will pursue her current career trajectory or if she’d be snatched up by an org for their secondary women’s team.
And speaking of orgs picking up female teams, Brazil’s Havan Liberty decided to exercise their right to do so by announcing their own female line up ahead of the VALORANT Champions Tour, and we saw similar debates surrounding the pros and cons of female-only teams. Cloud9 White’s coach Christopher “Dream” Myrick said in a series of tweets: “women pros have a lot of extra sh*t to deal with. There are countless clips of women being harassed/trolled on ladder because of their gender, and pros have to grind ranked every day to improve.
“Other pros make weird/offensive comments during scrims, and on socials, the criticism that women face is also much harsher, both from the community and from teammates. Esports has a sexism issue, and that doesn't magically stop at the pro level, or if there's a woman joining the team, men don't transcend misogyny when they get signed.
“A women's roster doesn't eliminate these problems, but it does make them much more manageable so the players can fully focus on competing. Success requires a winning environment, and right now, it's very difficult (not impossible) for an org to provide that via a mixed roster. There are also macro issues in the scene that have to be addressed, but from a purely competitive standpoint women's teams are, for now, the best way to develop talent and win in my opinion.”
As Dream acknowledges, female rosters cannot just erase the systematic sexism that exists in esports, but it’s a great place to start in order to create healthy and competitive environments. The key is to normalise women in the competitive scene and to allow talented and top-tier female players to be able to ascend and grow - much like their male counterparts. Having strong mixed teams is very much on the cards for the future, but for now, we cannot underestimate the importance of Riot and orgs’ efforts to create opportunities to those who don’t deserve to be held back for their gender.
Images via Riot Games