Women Valorant Players Are Still Facing Harassment From Men

Women Valorant Players Are Still Facing Harassment From Men

Last summer, I reported on major studios’ valiant (but still lacking) efforts to combat toxic voice chat (of which women are often the target) in popular competitive games like Overwatch 2, Call of Duty, and Apex Legends. And though Riot Games, the studio behind the 5v5 competitive hero shooter Valorant, is one of the more aggressive teams in the fight against hateful in-game chat, myriad problems linger in that game, as well.

A recent social media post has resulted in dozens of Valorant players (some esports pros, others content creators) speaking out against the way women are treated in-game and showcasing how this is still a problem plaguing competitive multiplayer shooters.

The Valorant video that started it all (again)

The conversation kicked off on April 9, when a Valorant player and content creator named Davis “LightEdits” Bray shared a clip from a recent Twitch stream on X (formerly Twitter) with the caption “my bad never going to try to comm [voice chat] in ranked again.” In the clip (which appears to have been taken from Valorant streamer Joona’s Twitch page), he reminds a player in a ranked match (Luna “Luna Fox” Ryan) that she has her ultimate, to which Joona says, “she knows.” This quickly descends into bickering, with Bray and other men saying the suggestion was an example of “good comms” and asking why the women were getting “angry.”

“The joys of being a woman,” Joona eventually says, before muting them. “Fucking loser fucks. Loser freak fucks,” she says as she appears to report them.

“ANYWAYS FOLLOW ME ON TWITCH <3,” Bray wrote in an X/Twitter thread of the video he shared. Replies include comments on Joona’s “ego” or “attitude,” many of which Davis liked. An alleged screenshot of a message in his Twitch chat reads, “bro if that was my shorty I’d smack some sense into her, not white knight.”

On the morning of April 10, however, Joona shared her own video, with the caption “this is probably why you deleted your vod and looked for scraps in mine huh?” (Bray’s video on demand or VOD, which is the entirety of a Twitch livestream uploaded to a streamer’s page for evergreen viewing, is still available, but only to subscribers of his channel.)

Joona’s video appears to start before the events of Bray’s video, but in the same match. About eight seconds into the clip, Joona says something about an in-game strategy, and Bray immediately reacts to the sound of her voice. “Oh my god, guys, e-girl, e-girl,” he says. He then asks, “Who is this Viper?” more than once, referring to the character Joona was playing. “Isn’t Joona the one who has, like, the ego?” he asks his chat, before complaining about her communication. “What the fuck kind of comm is that, bro?” he asks, his in-game mic clearly not transmitting to her.

“What is wrong with Joona, bro? Ain’t no way she’s fucking ShahZam’s girlfriend. She has an ego because she’s dating a pro player,” he says, referring to Joona’s public relationship with Valorant pro Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan.

Image: Riot Games

Valorant comms and conflict

In an email to Kotaku, LunaFox explains how the game went down from her perspective. “LightEdits wanted to make a comm (that wasn’t bad by any means) that I had my ult, which both me and Joona [the pair duos a lot together, and are friends both on and off Valorant] were aware of…Once Joona heard this, she responded with ‘she knows’ so that the team would understand to just not talk while I’m in a clutch, which I prefer in my ranked games…he took this as aggression and it was very apparent in his response.”

According to Luna, Bray and the other men in the game repeatedly misgendered her in the voice chat, “even though Joona corrected them multiple times.” “After the game, we thought it was over and then both were surprised at the resulting Twitter post trying to paint Joona out to be a bad person,” she tells me.

In the aftermath of Joona and Bray’s posts, dozens of Valorant players and other esports pros weighed in on the controversy. Valorant pro Alan “ethos” Ruan called Bray’s actions the “definition” of “incel behavior,” while esports analyst Rod “Slasher” Breslau jokingly said that players who “won’t stop talking while someone is trying to clutch should be waterboarded until the round is over.” Joona’s partner, ShahZam, replied to Bray’s initial video, writing, “You guys were being weird all game. That’s just how she talks and people think it’s attitude because it’s not in a soft ‘uwu’ voice. This is pretty lame to do dude, your team was instigating the whole game. Do better.”

“Full transparency, I like to make content from clipping streamers’ reactions. I never intended it to victimize myself. I apologize to Joona for involving her in this video this blew way out of proportion,” Bray wrote on X on April 10. The post has since been deleted. On the same day, he shared a YouTube video called “lightedits vs joon false accusations” that does not include any of the clips of him discussing Joona’s “ego” or her relationship, or the comments about LunaFox.

Bray’s X profile shows that he liked dozens of comments on the original video he shared, including one that tags Elon Musk and asks him to weigh in, and another that reads “every Valorant mf starts a problem then acts like a victim.” Bray is currently an esports student athlete at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Kotaku reached out to Bray for comment.

A rep for the University of Waterloo said in a statement to Kotaku via email: “The University is committed to fostering a campus community where all of our students can thrive. We have been made aware of this issue and are addressing it in line with the appropriate internal policies and processes.”

Valorant art shows several femme characters eating together at a restaurant.

Image: Riot Games

Women Valorant players on in-game harassment

As is the case in most high-level competitive video games, this controversy is yet another example of how a small but vocal group of players often create an openly hostile space for women. In the wake of the conflict, women shared their own stories and clips of in-game harassment they’ve faced while playing Riot’s highly competitive game.

Content creator Serenity posted a clip on X in which several men she’s playing with harass her—the men discuss rape, call her “a retard,” and one one tells her to “kill yourself you little slut.”

28-year-old Valorant content creator Birbo shared a clip of a match in which her male teammates are body-blocking her in-game and using stuns and flashes to impede her movement. “At the start of every game I always say ‘hello team’ or something similar, so I’m assuming that’s how they figured out I’m a girl,” she told Kotaku via email. “This video is not the only example of [harassment I’ve received in Valorant]…This video is the first where I have shared the names of the people doing it, and I don’t wish for them to receive any harassment, but I do hope that it will make other people more hesitant to be toxic toward their teammates.”

“Generally speaking, I do believe that most of the community is welcoming towards women, at least in my experience,” she wrote. “I usually get maybe one or two games like this per week. However, the minority group that is toxic definitely gives the rest of the community a bad reputation.”

Nao, a 24-year-old Valorant player who cut her teeth in CS:GO lobbies, sent Kotaku a clip of a Valorant match in which a male player repeatedly calls her mommy after she politely asks him not to. “I think Valorant is better [than other games in terms of toxicity],” but just because it’s better doesn’t mean it’s okay,” she wrote in an email.

Tess, a 24-year-old marketing specialist who has often runs duos with her friend Morgan, told Kotaku that she regularly experiences harassment in-game, so much so that “any day we queue and don’t experience harassment in Valorant is an abnormality.”

“Just last week, I made the mistake of solo queuing and had an all-male team who made fun of the guys I was outfragging…They yelled at me the entire game, then started yelling at me for not talking. They said I got scared and shut up. There is no winning,” she writes in an email.

Tess’ duo partner Morgan, shared similar sentiments in an email to Kotaku, writing: “It’s crazy what people can say online with just the sound of your voice. I also think it’s easy to gang up on one person, especially if you are solo queueing.”

All of the women I spoke to had myriad stories about harassment they’ve faced in Valorant and other online competitive games. Many of them said that Riot Games has done a good job of policing in-game chat, but almost uniformly said that the company could do better. (Kotaku reached out to Riot Games for comment.) Several women spoke about the importance of prominent content creators and esports athletes speaking out against in-game harassment—as well as how helpful it is for even the average player to try and nip hate speech in the bud.

“I genuinely believe that if people want to see change, we need people to also speak out or speak up when someone is being openly sexist or transphobic to tear someone else down,” Luna said via email. “I truly believe if there was at least one person every game who would have done this, the games will feel a lot safer for many women and marginalized genders alike.”

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