How LCS Game Changers is looking to improve the LOL esports scene for women

by Jessica Scharnagle

LCS Game Changers, a program for women who are high ELO League of Legends players, commenced at the beginning of September. Nerd Street caught up with a couple of the women who participated and the program lead to learn more about what worked and what’s next.

Natalie Denk, a research associate at the Center for Applied Game Research of the Donau University Krems told that there are four main reasons women are underrepresented in the gaming industry: “Missing role models, fear of sexism, gender-specific socialisation, and non-perception of women as a target group of the gaming industry.”

These are all things the LCS Game Changers aimed to remedy with the introduction of the program. However, for those who weren’t looking for it, the program might be hard to find because the LCS Game Changers program was not streamed or publicized like VCT Game Changers.

The program featured scrims between the 10 women who participated and collegiate teams, speakers who gave presentations, coaching staff presentations and one-on-one time with coaches.

Fear of sexism

Although League of Legends is a much more established and popular game worldwide than VALORANT, Riot Game Changers lead Shelby Ulisse explained why the LCS program was not publicized in the same way the VALORANT Game Changers was.

“What we really don't want is these women to feel pressure or toxicity publicly,” Ulisse said. “And I think in the past, and not just in League of Legends, we've seen other esports try and just bring a bunch of women on the team or enforce like, you must have one woman on your team. And I actually just don't think that's the right way of going about it. And I think there has to be some baby steps up to that point. So definitely something we're looking into. Definitely. A goal of ours is to bring women into our scene.”

Unlike League of Legends, VALORANT’s newness allowed it to start with a clean slate, and it was able to integrate women into the scene faster than LoL.

“We started Game Changers for VALORANT, at the inception of the esport, right? And so we also had Galorants, which is a fantastic Discord server to help kickstart that program,” Ulisse said. “So we are already seeing a lot of women in the competitive scene on teams already participating in these like smaller amateur competitions. And because we're doing it from the beginning, I think the strategy is just so so different. What we're doing is trying to socialize these female teams at a much higher level and get them more and more experienced to the point that we don't necessarily have to have a VALORANT Game Changers.”

Gender-specific socialization

This year, the LCS Game Changers was an all-online event, but the plan is to eventually make it an in-person event, like the VCT Game Changers Caster Training program. Even so, the women who participated still got to interact with and network with other women in the scene.

Shysept and Shapeshift, two of the women in the program, said that their experience with the women in the program was positive. Their experience within the LCS Game Changers was free of toxicity and judgment, something that they wish they saw more of in the esports and gaming space.

“I feel like as a player, I developed so many bad habits over the years. And I didn't know how to fix them, obviously. And I'm a college student, so I can't really afford coaching, so I wanted to improve on my gameplay and to meet people and possibly make connections so I can grow as a content maker,” shysept said.

Missing role models

Tied in with player development is someone to show them the ropes. The No. 1 thing shysept and Shapeshift told Nerd Street is that the women in the LoL esports scene need professional coaches to help them succeed.

“I feel like if they wanted to make a women's league, which, I know that they might ... who knows what will actually happen, but I feel like if they wanted to make a women's league they would need a lot of investment into coaching and player development and to treat it seriously,” Shapeshift said.

This is proving to be a barrier for both women players and organizers of the program. Ulisse said that she also had a hard time getting coaches to get involved with the program because of their rigorous schedules and how often coaches move around.

“Diving deeper with coaches is a challenge. I think sometimes because coaches tend to switch teams quite a lot,” Ulisse said. “So trying to kind of nail down who we're working with was definitely something that, you know, was difficult for us. But I think ultimately, like they're the subject matter experts. And so we really want to make sure that they have an equal voice in this, because they're really going to be the people that teach these women what really going to [the] pro level looks like.”

Ulisse said that integrating coaches into the program is something they are going to look more into next year with the second iteration of the program. Coaching is one of the top things both the players and the organizers seem to have their eye on.

“Coaches can be very difficult to get, and we really think getting LCS and Academy coaches is super important, because they really know what the true experiences are,” Ulisse said. “So that's kind of one of our main blockers and challenges, and we're trying to figure out alternatives to that. So I don't, you know, have any concrete plans that I can share yet, but we're doing a lot more research and taking the feedback from this one and trying to be really thoughtful about what we're doing next.”

Non-perception of women as a target group of the gaming industry

One of the biggest problems that the women had with past experiences, is being brought on as a marketing tool instead of getting access to the tools they really need to succeed in the professional landscape.

“I talked to a couple of friends in the past who worked with [people who attempted] making women's teams in the past, and these players weren't really coached,” Shysept said. “Their schedules were messy, like they were more as a marketing team instead of like a real team. They didn't treat it like a real team. Like they use women as an object instead of like players, right?”

In the gaming space, it is a lot harder to be a woman. There is often toxicity, sexism and condescension that goes on both behind the scenes and in-game. Women in the League of Legends scene are fighting to even get to the starting point that most of their male counterparts start at automatically.

“I feel like just player development is honestly the biggest thing, which is kind of what Game Changers is all about, right?” Shapeshift said. “But like, because of the fact that it's so much harder to even get anywhere in the first place as a woman in esports, it just makes it a lot harder to get to that initial level. And then you have the barriers of actually needing to get the coaching and needing to get the player development at the higher level. And all of that sort of adds up.”

Ulisse said that the goal right now is to bring women into the scene. Although none of the games the women played during the programs were broadcast live, it is something all parties want and are working toward.

What’s next for LCS Game Changers?

Nothing is planned for next year yet, but talks are happening behind the scenes to figure out what is best going forward, and how to make the event better. Riot and the Game Changers team are working hard to ensure that the program only grows from here.

The Game Changers program is a sign that Riot cares about the furtherment of women in the esports scene, but figuring out how best to make more progress is the hardest part of the task.

Many women in the gaming space are afraid to even play a game because of the harassment they will no doubt experience. With the help of Riot and other professionals in the scene, women aspiring to go pro in the League of Legends esport will hopefully soon have a clear path to achieve their goals.

Lead image credit: Ari Lee for Riot Games

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