Head of VCT Game Changers reveals “incredible” growth with players close to top level
Ashley Washington, Riot Games’ Product Manager for VCT EMEA Game Changers, spoke with Dexerto about tracking success for the tournament series.
VCT EMEA Game Changers Series III concluded on October 2 with Guild X claiming the top spot on the podium. The team will represent the region, along with G2 Gozen, at the Valorant Champions Tour Game Changers Championship in Berlin in November.
The two teams have battled for the top finish in the past three tournaments and have maintained top status while the scene at large has grown and matured — from 91 teams competing in Series II to 126 in Series III, according to Ashley Washington, Riot Games’ Product Manager for VCT EMEA Game Changers.
“[It’s] incredible growth to see between series, let alone years,” Washington said in an interview with Dexerto.
VCT Game Changers is a space for women and marginalized genders to compete at the highest level in Valorant. The success of the program is measured in many ways, according to Washington, with Riot Games looking at player feedback, signup numbers, and the makeup of the participating teams.
“The way that we’re looking at it right now is mainly rooted in the feedback we’re getting from the players about whether or not the experience itself is something that they feel like they are proud to be part of, that they’re excited to be a part of,” Washington said.
She also pointed towards how the program has grown regionally in Europe with more players gradually coming from Turkey, the Middle East, and Northern Europe. Five of the top 16 teams at the recent Game Changers tournament in EMEA were teams with mainly Turkish players, with one Saudi Arabian team in the mix as well.
What success looks like for VCT Game Changers
Unlike the main Valorant Champions Tour circuit, which many gauge as successful or not based on viewership numbers and fan engagement, Washington said that while having people watch Game Changers is important, creating a safe space for the players is the ultimate goal.
“For some, that safe space does not include being on camera all the time while they grow those skills, while they find the team where they’re meant to be,” Washington explained. “That’s just an example of one of the ways where we deprioritize something that might be really important to the rest of the ecosystem.
“I fully plan on continuing to make sure that this is first and foremost, that safe space that we promised in the first place.”
She did, however, point to the upcoming championship in Berlin as an event where viewership might be looked at with more scrutiny.
While the program has been around for about two years at this point, Washington said that Game Changers is still trying to find its footing in the larger ecosystem of Valorant esports. The tournament is a bastion for underrepresented genders but also a pipeline for those players to enter the mainstream circuit.
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“Game Changers is a space for serious play,” she said. “I think introducing it to a space where previously it wasn’t super common to have this kind of thing always comes with its caveats.
“But I would say that while it’s a work in progress to find where Game Changers sits in the larger ecosystem, in terms of seriousness, and prestige, there’s a problem that exists and it’s really this general under-representation in the industry and it’s certainly not going to be fixed by anything that positions itself as a charity.”
The program in 2023
With the new partnership system, teams will have to become accustomed to a new schedule surrounding Valorant at the highest levels. Game Changers, usually a standalone tournament series in the schedule with starting times outside of the main circuit’s schedule, might have to change as well.
One thing that Washington said she hopes to see in 2023 is a commitment from more organizations in the partnered leagues to Game Changers squads. Of the ten teams in the EMEA league, for example, only three currently have women’s teams.
Washington could not give specifics on what the tournament series will look like next year, but she did note that player feedback will have a heavy impact on their decisions.
“I would definitely say that what we have set up for next year is definitely deeply rooted in the feedback we’ve been receiving, as well as the performance of the teams that we’ve seen participating in Game Changers,” she said. “We’re hoping to create an experience that essentially suits the overall Game Changers participation, regardless of skill level.”
The EMEA chief also hinted that more tournaments for players from all levels of play, from the best-signed squads to newly formed amateur teams, could be coming in the near future.
Up until now, not a single player has reached the main Valorant circuit after shining in Game Changers. As Riot Games outlines its vision for the future of the circuit, Washington hopes that will change in 2023.
“The better everybody gets, the quicker we can see people move on,” Washington said.
“I’m looking forward to the day where we have players from G2 Gozen, or Guild X, or NAVI or whoever else, on a roster in the main space. I think we’re getting very close to that. So this is something that I think everybody should be really excited about. I think Valorant is the perfect home for this kind of change.”