Nerd Street Gamers on the Importance of All-Women Valorant Events
Nerd Street Gamers has quickly become one of the biggest names in amateur esports. Based in Philadelphia, NSG is a national network of esports facilities and events dedicated to powering competitive opportunities for gamers. They’ve hosted events in Overwatch for the Philadelphia Fusion, among other games, and now they’ve set their sights on Valorant and tackling one of the industry’s biggest elephants in the room.
In launching their Valorant tournaments, Nerd Street Gamers is looking to tackle one of the industry’s biggest challenges — the lack of female competitors and tournaments. Despite esports being a booming, $1 billion-plus industry, only 35% of esports gamers are women. This is due to the longstanding stigma that esports is “better suited” for men, something that Nerd Street Gamers wants to help dispel, along with industry partners.
Nerd Street Gamers is teaming up with some of the biggest names in esports (Comcast, T1 Entertainment & Sports, G FUEL, etc.) to host the largest female VALORANT tournament on Sept. 12 called the FTW Summer Showdown. It will feature seven professional, amateur and content creator teams that will be announced at a later date, with one spot remaining open for an amateur team to fill via a qualifier event.
“We want to give more women a seat at the table in this industry – both for competitors and for women seeking a career in esports,” said Paige Funk, Senior Marketing Director at Nerd Street Gamers. “We’re excited to team up with Spectacor Gaming, T1, and G FUEL to host our first all-women VALORANT invitational and spotlight female gamers who are making strides in the industry. From the players to the logistical staff, this tournament is a testament to the power that women have to drive the gaming industry forward today and in the future.”
Esports Talk had the chance to sit down with Paige Funk, Senior Marketing Director for Nerd Street Gamers, to talk about the female Valorant tournament and some of the challenges facing women in professional esports.
Nerd Street Gamers on Battling for Inclusivity in Valorant
Dustin Steiner, Esports Talk: What challenges do you see for women getting involved in esports at present?
Paige Funk, Senior Marketing Director, Nerd Street Gamers: Esports is still a very toxic environment for women, but the good news is that a lot of organizations including Spectacor Gaming, Nerd Street Gamers, G FUEL and more are taking actionable steps to improve the industry. Imagine being a young woman or girl, finding a passion in gaming, and constantly being met with vulgar, cruel language when trying to play and compete. It puts up a major barrier for women that discourages them from wanting to be involved in esports from the start, sometimes causing them to quit before they can even get close to reaching their full potential because the language being directed at them is so intolerable.
Steiner: How will your initiatives directly begin to solve these problems?
Funk: Our initiatives are focused on a positive, competitive environment for women. We are providing women with a safe platform to be themselves, boast their skill set and compete for a large prize pot, while also showing a younger generation of aspiring female gamers that they have a place in this industry. We are excited to help pave the way for future generations of female gamers and shut down negative speech that was once normalized in esports.
Steiner: Do you think that having all-female tournaments this early in Valorant’s history will help them stay competitive with men at the same level?
Funk: Absolutely. Riot Games has been extremely receptive to the entire gaming community while rolling out VALORANT and its competitive infrastructure. Women can compete, and will compete, alongside men in major tournaments, but we want them to be able to compete without the fear of getting spammed with negative comments because of their gender.
Steiner: What social stigmas do you believe stand in the way of women joining esports teams?
Funk: The industry as a whole is not currently set up to encourage female success.If you have a gamertag that potentially identifies you as being female, or if someone identifies you as female in a voice chat, you are at risk of receiving a lot of hateful messaging and harassment. That alone can discourage a woman’s pursuit of becoming a professional player or going after other opportunities in the industry.
Steiner: Would you say that this problem that men have with women in esports is more systemic to gaming as a whole, or is this more of a societal problem? How do we solve it?
Funk: I believe that it originated as a societal problem, and now we all have to actively work towards positive change across many facets of life. The good news is that there is progress being made every day. Sometimes two steps forward is met with one step backwards, but in the end, it is still a forward progress. With esports, people have the ability to hide behind a screen and an anonymous name, but that should never make someone feel empowered to target others with misogynistic, racist, or other hateful speech. Solving these issues may not happen overnight, but as long as we continue to grow as an unstoppable force of humans who will not stand for it, those who are hateful will be shut out and not have a place in the community.
Steiner: What was the inspiration behind choosing Valorant for the tournament?
Funk: VALORANT has taken esports by storm since its launch. It’s arguably one of the most competitive games in the industry right now, and there is a lot of badass female talent that deserves to be showcased.
Steiner: How will the Valorant event play into the larger FTW initiative at Nerd Street Gamers?
Funk: Spectacor Gaming launched FTW: For the Women in 2019 to connect, support, and inspire the growth and advancement of women across all sectors of the gaming landscape. It has since expanded its partnership with Nerd Street Gamers to help foster a dynamic amateur to pro pipeline – furthering its mission to champion an inclusive space for women and their allies by empowering them through networking, professional growth opportunities, and tournaments that help drive the industry forward. You will continue to see FTW expand across different game titles, tournaments, and networking opportunities for women in esports.
Steiner: What steps will the FTW initiative and Nerd Street take to establish more cohesive co-ed leagues?
Funk: We will continue providing opportunity, accessibility, and integrity in esports for all who have a passion in gaming. We will build an inclusive, competitive, positive community for all gamers where there will never be room for hatred and harassment.
Steiner: Can you talk about some of the struggles you faced as a female executive climbing the ranks in esports?
Funk: I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by supportive men throughout my career. As a woman, you have an understanding that you will never be part of what most people refer to as the “boys club.” You need to prove that you not only bring value to an organization, but that you are absolutely vital to the organization’s success. I enjoy that challenge.
Steiner: What can companies like Riot, Valve, Blizzard, and other esports organizations do to challenge the status quo?
Funk: Esports organizations can challenge the status quo by taking on these issues headfirst. Is it possible to monitor every single player, forum, chat, etc for hateful speech? Maybe not. However, we should never turn a blind eye to it when we do see it, and we should also proactively make it known that hateful speech is not tolerated. It’s up to executives to set the precedent for the rest of the organization, and clearly communicate the actions for employees and partners to take if they witness hateful speech in tournaments, events, or on social media. The goal is simple – create an inclusive environment for everyone to feel welcome and compete in esports.