Last Friday, a Riot Games UX designer tweeted video of an all too common occurrence: gendered harassment in the built-in voice chat of an online game. While such harassment is always deplorable, this instance was particularly remarkable in that the designer, who goes by the name Greenily and is a woman, was the victim of said harassment, and what’s more, the exchange took place inside of Valorant, Riot’s brand-new competitive shooter.
“I want to live in a world where this guy doesn’t go and ruin other peoples’ games,” Greenily said in a subsequent tweet. “Where people feel safe to speak up. But reality is that in general voice comms land, for a ton of females, their safety mechanism is identifying ppl like this early and remaining silent or muting.”
According to her Twitter profile, Greenily works on League of Legends, Riot’s multi-billion dollar claim to fame, and Teamfight Tactics, its Auto Chess-esque spin-off. Regardless, it’s pretty unusual for an employee of a developer — even one from a different team — to point out the ongoing harassment issues in one of the company’s titles. Things became even more improbable when Valorant executive producer Anna Donlon responded to Greenily’s thread in solidarity, echoing her experience and vowing to help improve the situation.
“Gross, this is creepy as hell. This is why I can’t solo,” Donlon said. “I’m so sorry. We’re absolutely looking into long-term solutions for making it safe to play VALORANT – even solo queue!”
Today’s?: It’s like this MOST of the time on solo queue voice comms REGARDLESS of the game I’m playing. I usually don’t give in to this like in the video; I’m silent in an attempt to not incite more. Inevitably you get to a point where you have to mute them. More perspective: pic.twitter.com/7ruWcI78tL
— Tea! ? (@Evergreenily) April 24, 2020
To have a game’s executive producer publicly admit that she cannot play her own game for fear of being harassed is, to put it mildly, buck fuckin’ wild y’all. It’s a level of transparency for which I can conjure no modern precedent in games; a candidness that speaks as loudly to her intent as Valorant‘s record-breaking Twitch ratings do to the game’s highly successful beta launch. It’s enough to make you think that, dang y’all, she might actually mean it.
Riot, of course, is no stranger to toxicity in its games. League of Legends is widely considered to have one of the most virulently abusive communities in all of online gaming, tying for second place in a 2019 Anti-Defamation League study that gauged the prevalence of harassment in 15 different online games. Of those surveyed, 75 percent of League of Legends players said they experienced some form of harassment while playing, ranking behind DOTA 2 and tying with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
You might have noticed that, of the five games to top the Anti-Defamation League’s study, three are competitive online shooters. And from the jump, Riot has positioned Valorant as the competitive shooter player’s competitive shooter, touting its enormous investment in a global server infrastructure, as well as its goal of leading the industry in ping times and eliminating latency-exploiting tactics like corner peeking. Riot must have been aware of who it was courting and what FPS communities are like, so one would hope that it has a long-term strategy for eliminating the kind of harassment seen in Greenily’s tweet. As of right now, however, no specific plans have been laid out.