Cloud9 Signs Top All-Women Valorant Team MAJKL, AT&T to Serve as Presenting Partner
The release of Valorant has already created significant forward progress for women in esports. Just last month, Spectacor Gaming’s FTW initiative became the first tournament organizer to receive official professional-level tournament status from Riot Games for an all-women tournament. Now, esports organization Cloud9 is looking to take that progress one step further with the signing of that tournament’s champion, MAJKL, as a sister team to its existing Valorant roster.
The team will now compete under the name “Cloud9 White” with the (currently) all-male team rebranding to “Cloud9 Blue.” Additionally, AT&T has expanded its deal with the organization to become the presenting partner of Cloud9 White.
While multiple teams including Dignitas and Counter Logic Gaming currently field women’s rosters in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and/or Valorant, those teams most commonly compete in all-women events. According to Cloud9 Senior General Manager Gaylen Malone, the organization is committed to turning Cloud9 White into a true sister team competing in Valorant’s male-dominated pro scene.
She told The Esports Observer that the company’s strategy was inspired by early Korean League of Legends. In the early 2010s, many Korean LoL organizations signed 10 players divided across two rosters with similarly-themed names (Azubu Frost/Blaze, Najin Black Shield/White Sword, etc). These rosters would frequently play practice matches against one another and occasionally exchange players back and forth. “I don’t expect us to exchange players week-by-week,” said Malone, “but I do expect for the coaches and players of Cloud9 Blue to eventually look to integrate some of the women from Cloud9 White into their roster.”
Like those old Korean rosters, the teams will have scheduled practice time competing against one another and will have coaches “sharing systems across both rosters.” In addition to practicing like sister teams, Cloud9 intends to have its two rosters compete in the same tournaments. The two rosters will both aim to qualify for the game’s first official championship, First Strike, which takes place later this year.
For Malone, the decision to sign the MAJKL roster was not only due to their status as the top women’s team in the game, but their approach to competition. “The thing that stood out to me about this team is that they were already playing together and scrimming together. They weren’t a team that were all friends before Valorant and were playing for fun. They are a talented group of women who came together because they all wanted to be the best at the game and were committed to improving as a team. They were already working like a C9 team should, which is what made me so interested in them! This team was already clearly the top women’s team and they are ready to work on becoming the top Valorant talent, not just the top women’s Valorant talent.”
Shizuka Suzuki, head of sponsorships and experiential marketing at AT&T, also expressed her excitement regarding the signing and expanded partnership to TEO. She explained that both C9 and AT&T have a commitment to elevating women in gaming. AT&T recently announced a gender equality initiative for game developers called Unlocked Games.
“We’ve got a huge passion around gender equality in sponsorships overall,” Suzuki said. “Whether that be with the WNBA, whether that be women’s soccer – a lot of different areas where we’re intentionally making investments to help provide women with a platform to make sure they’re being seen by the younger generation or by others.”
In addition to its traditional sports activities, AT&T has been active in esports for several years sponsoring mobile gaming initiatives for ESL. Suzuki noted that, despite the smaller scale of many women’s esports programs, brands should take notice of the opportunities that exist in the space. “It’s almost a best-kept secret. Generally, those rights fees are a little cheaper than in men’s sports. What that allows is for companies of all marketing budget sizes to be able to go invest in world-class athletes.” She did however caution that brands need to make sure that such initiatives align with their values before entering the space.
While it remains to be seen whether Cloud9 White can compete consistently with the top teams in Valorant, the organization is setting itself up to make significant strides for women in esports, pushing one step closer to the ultimate goal of co-ed teams becoming the norm in the space.
“It’s going to take everyone,” Suzuki said. “If we all share that same passion of giving women a better opportunity, more opportunities to be seen, and certainly more content around them…it’s going to take all of us as part of that ecosystem to move the needle.”
In part, Cloud9 is able to help potentially move that needle due to groundwork previously laid by the women’s ecosystem of CS:GO. The similarity in gameplay between it and Valorant allowed for women’s teams to more easily migrate over from what is currently the most professionalized women’s esports infrastructure in the industry. Malone echoed the sentiment of this requiring a collaborative effort:
“I think that CS:GO was able to make such great strides because of the community and the TO’s pushing for it to happen. It is apparent that Valorant is making similar strides through a concerted effort between the community and the developer. Riot Games is making decisions early on to include women in competition and to ensure those women will be supported in the scene. I think that other titles could find similar success if they invested resources to the same degree while making conscious decisions to be more inclusive and provide stepping stones for women.”
That commitment from Riot Games is also part of why Cloud9 made the decision to sign a women’s roster. “We have seen opportunities to jump into women’s CS:GO in the past, but I think our relationship with Riot Games really made this a unique opportunity. Having an open line of communication with the developer and being able to talk about long term goals, really made us want to jump in and start developing talent for Valorant.”