Very few games are announced with a similar degree of hype as what Valorant received. Riot's premier 5v5 tactical shooter was first unveiled in March 2020, being teased previously beforehand as Project A, and now today it stands as not only one of the largest shooters out there, but also as a first-class esports title. Ever since Valorant released we've seen a whole bunch of tournaments organised, from third-party events all the way to the First Strike series hosted by Riot themselves.
Unlike a lot of esports titles out there, Valorant from the get-go has strived to bridge the gap of equality, currently plaguing many other esports scenes. Whilst progress is slowly happening, and we are seeing more and more women enter the Valorant competitive world, Riot has its sights set on the future, with the hopes of building a much more equal esports scene. To discuss the matter, we recently had the opportunity to speak with Zanne Wong, the Brand and Marketing Manager for Valorant EU, where we talked about the gender disparity, the current First Strike event, the upcoming Champions Tour, and what the future holds.
Gamereactor: So, Zanne, as a woman, how are you working to ensure competitive Valorant breaks the mold that most esports scenes fall under regarding poorly weighted gender representation?
Wong: Ultimately, the goal, and it is quite a personal matter to me as well as I'm part of that community, is to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. And, by everyone I mean regardless of gender, and by everyone, I also mean, not just players and teams, but also the casters, the people behind the scenes, everyone who makes this community what it is. And, it's important for us that there is representation, and I'm really excited to see there already is some, myself included I guess. It's really exciting and I hope that it becomes part of the norm in the future, but really the goal is just to make sure it's a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.
Gamereactor: We're seeing a growing number of female rosters joining competitive Valorant circuits, for example, Cloud9 White. How do you and the team at Riot plan on ensuring more women join professional Valorant down the line?
Wong: We have to listen to what the community wants. If the natural progression is somehow that we think of a more co-ed version of the league, or a women's only league, that's something that we will do based on what we understand from the community. This year really is about learning and understanding. I'm really excited to see the representation, I'm excited to see how First Strike is, I'm also excited to see how the 2021 circuit looks. I think it's really just about learning and listening right now, and reacting and doing what we feel is best for the community.
Gamereactor: The First Strike Finals are just around the corner, how has this tournament, and its format, helped you plan for future competitive Valorant to be better than ever?
Wong: It's actually really exciting, and we're only half-way through it really. The qualifiers are just over, the main event is just around the corner. Whatever happens, will really help inform what 2021 looks like for us. This is still our first year as a game, our first event as an esports, and I think this year has been that first foundational year on what that future looks like for us.
Gamereactor: The Valorant Champions Tour was unveiled just a few days ago. What is the hope for this tournament? Is it Valorant's LEC / Worlds format?
Wong: It's a different game and it's going to be a different format. 2021 is really for us to establish a sustainable and healthy ecosystem for everyone, including teams, coaches, casters, people internally as well. I think the ecosystem will be based on what we already know so far, but 2021 is primarily a tournament-based competition that will also feature open qualifiers. We want to identify who are the big stars, who are the mainstays, what is right, what is wrong, what we can learn from, and what we should do to make this the most successful ecosystem that we can build.
Gamereactor: We also know that the Challengers and Masters tournaments will be regional, meaning we will have a bunch of EU-based events to look forward to. With the current world we are living in, are there any plans for LAN-events down the line?
Wong: We kind of have to stay light on our feet right now, we don't know what 2021 looks like. It will be an interesting year, but we will definitely be part of it. The regional events will be part of them and the hope is just to create the best experience possible for our fans, the teams, and the community, whatever that looks like right now.
Gamereactor: How do you plan to include or entice women to become more involved in the Champions Tour? Is there a female league planned, or is there the hope that esports organisations will start expanding as Cloud9 has, and others like Gen.G are looking to do?
Wong: I think as we have always made this a value of ours, it's community first. We will listen to what is best for them if, and if there is a need for them, we will cater to that need. We can't really predict the future, it's very hard to say what's going to happen. I wish I could say more, but I am just very happy that there is representation, that there are teams who are already seeking out the opportunities that are created. We are still in Valorant's infancy. It's going to be really exciting to see what happens in the next few months, and in the next year, especially when we establish a more concrete structure for what that competition looks like.
Gamereactor: Looking toward the future, what are you hoping competitive Valorant will evolve to become?
Wong: The hope for me is that this is going to be an esports that will last for decades. The goal is to make sure that in ten years from now that we are still talking about it. I hope that's the case, as that's the goal for us.
Gamereactor: Final question, who do you think will win the First Strike Finals for EU?
Wong: That's a hard question. It's genuinely hard because I've watched a lot of the games, and in each one, I always feel like I could pinpoint one player where I was like, "damn, I really need to learn how to do that." Between Liquid, and the orgless teams like, well... Orgless. It's just really exciting and I feel like they all have so much potential. Personally, for the storyline and as a fan, I just want to see a great competition.
A huge thanks to Zanne and Riot for speaking with us. The Valorant First Strike EU Finals are set to take place in a few days, with the quarterfinals starting on December 3. For EU, the event is set to last until its conclusion on Sunday, December 6, when a victor will be crowned after several weeks and multiple different qualifying tournaments. As for the Champions Tour, we reported on the announcement a few days ago, but the actual tournament is set to begin in February 2021, when the open qualifiers begin.