Riot considers Valorant co-streaming, regional slots and match-fixing inquiry
By Mikhail Klimentov
On May 24, Reykjavik, Iceland will become the first offline "Valorant" event to include teams from around the world, competing to be the game's first world champions. Kasra Jafroodi, global "Valorant" esports strategy lead at Riot Games, says things are running smoothly, even if there's a lot happening behind the scenes. Recently, Riot settled on a stage design for the event. Next on the agenda: an improved spectator HUD.
But the details surrounding an event of this scale - and at this moment - will necessarily raise questions, especially with an extremely-online global fan base of gamers. Europe, in particular, has been the flash point for many of the questions surrounding "Valorant" esports.
During North America's Masters event, Riot gave high-profile content creators including Ninja, Pokimane and Shroud permission to rebroadcast the stream with their commentary. Many of these co-streams boasted viewerships equal to or surpassing that of the main "Valorant" Twitch channel. European content creators have not been given that same opportunity. Fans have been clamoring for an explanation.
The simplest explanation: There's one major audience language in the United States, and many in Europe, where "Valorant" teams are often composed of multilingual players supported by fans from a wide range of countries.
"In Europe, you have a lot more third-party local language production companies that are producing those broadcasts," Jafroodi said. "You also have a lot more languages in general. I think we really want to make sure that as we take steps to expand co-streaming, we are doing it carefully and in a way that allows each region the agency to develop the systems that best suit their region. Because ultimately what works in North America isn't necessarily what's going to work in Europe, and isn't necessarily always going to work in Japan and Korea."
That's not to say co-streaming will not come to Europe. ("It's going to take steps," said Jafroodi.) It'll just happen on a timeline set by Riot's team dedicated to that region.
The restrictions of hosting an in-person event during the pandemic also .ed Riot to cap at 10 the number of teams that would compete. Two of those slots were apportioned to Europe, another two to Turkey and two to Brazil, drawing the ire of some fans who pointed to Europe and Turkey's larger audience and competitive scene as justification for more slots.
"With 10 spots, there was really only one decision that had to be made," said Jafroodi. "Whether Europe had three and Brazil had one, or Brazil had two and Europe had two."
"We actually have no idea how these regions compare to each other," said Jafroodi. "I know a lot of people have opinions on how good E.U. is versus NA [North America] versus Brazil, but we have yet to see them actually play. So, I think we had to make a decision on whether we took a bet on which region we felt might have been better, or we leaned more toward regional diversity. . . . I feel very confident in leaning toward regional diversity, learning more information on how well the regions perform, and then tweaking going forward."
Jafroodi noted that Riot planned to broadcast the Iceland Masters in multiple languages, though the company had not decided whether there would be casters on-site, or working from local studios around the world. In either case, casters from different regions would be paired on-air to provide expertise on the scenes they're most focused on.
For months, rumors have circulated in the North American "Valorant" competitive scene around an investigation into match-fixing conducted by the Esports Integrity Commission. Many of North America's "Valorant" pros formerly played in the Mountain Dew League, an amateur "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" league. Some players believed to have participated in match-fixing toward the tail ends of their "Counter-Strike" careers also played in the last North American "Valorant" Masters event.
Although Jafroodi declined to comment on the specifics of any investigation, he noted that Riot's quick response to Sentinels (a team participating in the most recent Masters event), suspending a player in response to sexual abuse allegations, was a testament to the robust protocols the company had in place.
"We had a protocol in place, and part of that protocol was engaging with the team. So we did work with Sentinels throughout the process, and our competitive operations team was very much involved in that, even in the review and approval of a substitute."
The Washington Post's conversation with Jafroodi happened before ESIC commissioner Ian Smith announced in an interview on the YouTube channel slash32 that the group was working with the FBI on an investigation into sports betting related to match-fixing in "Counter-Strike." Jafroodi did not respond to a follow-up request for comment.
The Washington Post