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How Game Changers changed my mind about women’s esports cover image

How Game Changers changed my mind about women’s esports

#Opinion

Geo “Geo” Collins discusses why the Valorant Game Changers circuit has made her a believer in women’s esports.

I love VALORANT Game Changers. 
Some of the players I get the most excited about in the entire VALORANT competitive scene are Game Changers players. Some of the best content comes from Game Changers teams. Some of the deepest lore comes from Game Changers stories.

But I didn’t always love women’s esports. In fact, I never used to be a proponent of it. Game Changers is a big reason why that changed.

What is Game Changers?

For the uninitiated, Game Changers is Riot’s own VALORANT league for marginalized genders, aimed at providing a space for them to train, develop and grow into players who can hopefully one day compete in the main Champions Tour circuit. It was first announced in February 2021, as a series of ‘top tier competitions’ comparable in size to the Ignition Series of 2020, but has since become a fully-fledged league with tens of thousands of eager fans, and a LAN world championship to finish the season.

A woman's venture through life to esports

Geo was on the desk at Masters Berlin 2021 <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/valorantesports/51479499602/in/photolist-2movYMV-2mr4THm-2mnYF7S-2msnRW3-2mst58o-2ms5A9Z-2mrZPET-2mrGvEj-2mqPzTY-2mrxy5D-2momiph-2ms1X8J-2mrczAL-2mqaDtX-2mrBaf4-2ms4sV1-2mrT8PS/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)</a>
Geo was on the desk at Masters Berlin 2021 (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
For me, as a woman, I’ve always found it exhausting to be highlighted for my womanhood. It felt like for my male counterparts, being good at their work was the primary reason they’d earn anything, but for me, it was more exciting that I was female. It’s gotten better over time, but the pattern of being highlighted for something that took me no effort, really grated on me. I didn’t work hard to be a woman. It is not the most interesting thing about me. 
I went to an all-girls’ school for seven years; a place where the concept of ‘boys’ subjects’ and ‘girls’ subjects’ didn’t exist. Me choosing to study physics and mathematics really meant nothing next to a friend who studied English and history. The concept of being a minority group in my subject choices simply didn’t exist. 
So when I went to university to study physics, nothing irritated me more than ‘Women in STEM’ initiatives. I simply did not understand why the number of women in any subject mattered. I felt it was obsolete to artificially encourage women to study a STEM subject that they otherwise wouldn’t have picked - surely it would be a better use of resources to support the people who already knew they wanted to do it?
From university, I hopped into the world of esports, another foray into a male-dominated environment. This wasn’t new or alien or uncomfortable to me, so once again I didn’t understand it when I saw similar initiatives that mimicked those I’d seen in university. For me, it had been easy to transition into esports as a woman, and surely if we wanted to be taken more seriously for our work rather than our gender, this was moving backwards?
But that was the operative term: for me. Yes, for me it had been easy. Me, who had been gifted seven years to focus on work without the hindrance of gender-based discrimination before entering the world confident in my abilities. For me, there hadn’t been any hostile behavior. For me, no experience with men had made me feel too afraid or uncomfortable to pursue my passion.

Game Changers is paving the way

Mary is one of many young players finding success in the Game Changers scene <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/valorantesports/52508987879/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">(Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games)</a>
Mary is one of many young players finding success in the Game Changers scene (Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games)
When Game Changers came around, and I saw not only the interest in the competitive scene, but in the community as well, I started to see what I had been missing. This wasn’t about highlighting womanhood over skillset. In fact, most Game Changers players would likely assert that their goal is to leave the Game Changers ecosystem and play in the main circuit. 

This was about giving the women who wanted to be there a route in where they weren’t going to be questioned, or demeaned, or intimidated.

It didn’t automatically advance them into the main circuit; it didn’t artificially boost them above the co-ed VCT teams. What it did was give them a space to develop, in their own space and at their own pace, in an environment where their only concern could be improving. Instead of being pushed away by an environment that oftentimes questions, ridicules, or straight up bullies women for daring to be good at competing, these aspiring pros could park all those concerns and just work on being the best players they could be. 
And it’s clear people want it too. A whole audience of esports fans who have never been exposed to this kind of scene and competition now have players, icons and celebrities to look up to. They can root for the teams they love, and feel perhaps like that could one day be them. Maybe they would have felt otherwise discouraged to even try, and now they can see a reason to dream. 
FENNEL Hotelava were one of the most exciting teams to watch at the Game Changers Championship <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/valorantesports/52503618957/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">(Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)</a>
FENNEL Hotelava were one of the most exciting teams to watch at the Game Changers Championship (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games)
Stories that came to fruition throughout Game Changers Champs are held in similar regard to those from the Masters events of the last two seasons; stories like prodigious 16-year-old Mary joining G2 just this year and becoming a world champion, or the Japanese FENNEL, a team comprising five players who seemingly came out of nowhere in summer 2021, and yet became cultural icons on the stage in Berlin. The tenacity of Brazilian Team Liquid, or the unexpected downfall of the exalted Cloud9 White. Game Changers has gripped an audience who may never have expected to root so hard for this scene.
And ultimately, demand makes money. It may be disgruntling to players in the dregs of tier 3, fighting to show their worth beyond this season’s immortal badge, to see these women get support, fame and money for just being women. That of course it’s easier for women because they don’t have to work as hard to be picked up. But really, it isn’t that.
Sure, maybe you’re at a similar rank this season. Maybe you wouldn’t have whiffed that shot (or maybe you would have). But are there tens- if not hundreds of thousands of fans throwing their support - and their credit cards - at you? Do you bring that to the scene? Probably not. People want to see these women compete. Their presence inherently brings value to the ecosystem, and to the organizations they represent. 
Fans show their support for Cloud9 White at the Game Changers Championship <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/valorantesports/52502220827/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">(Photo by Wojciech Wandzel/Riot Games)</a>
Fans show their support for Cloud9 White at the Game Changers Championship (Photo by Wojciech Wandzel/Riot Games)

Women's esports can lead to bigger and better things

I used to look at women’s esports through an oversimplified and idealized lens. I don’t want women’s scenes to exist because I don’t want them to be necessary. I dream of the day everyone plays under the same VCT banner without a need for separation.
But just because I don’t want us to need women’s esports, doesn’t stop it from being needed. And this is something Riot have evidently recognized. And truthfully, it’s something which has felt more and more worth believing in as time has gone on, and as we’ve seen what this scene means to so many people.
Shopify Rebellion is locked in, showing how intense the Game Changers LAN environment is <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/valorantesports/52512740366/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">(Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games)</a>
Shopify Rebellion is locked in, showing how intense the Game Changers LAN environment is (Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games)
I had my seven years of an all-female environment to prepare me for a degree and a career in incredibly male-dominated universes - seven years of only having to concern myself with my work and my improvement, with no impeding factors stemming from my gender. For so many years I believed that others should find it easy to integrate like I did when I left school. But with the inception of Game Changers, I’ve learned that my experience isn’t an indictment of this system, but proof that it works.

Maybe one day we can shut the door on women’s esports, or maybe it will always exist as a developmental space for those who want it. My hope is that over time fewer people do. But as time goes on, that over-simplified, idealistic view I had will become closer to a reality - and that won’t be in spite of womens’ esports, but because of it.

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Brandon Moore
Brandon Moore
Editor | Twitter @MothmanMoore
Brandon "Mothman" Moore is an esports journalist based in the United States. He has a heavy background in FPS titles, including professional Valorant coverage from day one. Brandon is a family man who loves writing, gaming, and catching a baseball game.