The Europe, Middle East, and Africa VALORANT Game Changers tournament will exclude certain marginalized genders, including those who identify as non-binary, from competing in the events, sources familiar with the tournament’s organization told Dot Esports.
Transgender women will be allowed to compete throughout the event, but the rules are a break from the event’s North American counterpart, which includes “marginalized genders,” including non-binary persons.
At the beginning of the year, Riot released its plans to hold the Game Changers tournament series that would supplement the VALORANT Champions Tour and work towards a VCT that was more inclusive and representative of the community. But in the EMEA Game Changers rulebook under “Team Members Gender,” it says “all players on a Team’s Roster must be women players.” It does not include certain marginalized genders, such as those who are non-binary, genderqueer, agender, or bigender.
The decision to exclude those persons was made for “legal and safety reasons,” according to sources, and is likely due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws that govern some of the countries the VALORANT competitors call home.
Specifically, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—each whose residents are eligible to compete in the EMEA Game Changers events—all enforce laws that punish those who are transgender or of other certain LGBTQ+ identities.
These countries prohibit imitating or dressing as a member of the opposite sex, with punishments that range from fines or imprisonment to public whipping, beatings, or chemical castrations. While laws vary country-to-country, government officials in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have arrested or punished transgender persons in various instances over the past five years.
The EMEA Game Changers events will take place over three months, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, Oct. 25 to 31, and Nov. 15 to 21. The Oct. 25 to 31, dubbed “All-in,” will feature both men and women competing.
The first sentence in Riot’s initial post introducing the program reads “VCT Game Changers is a new program which will supplement the competitive season by creating new opportunities and exposure for women and other marginalized genders within VALORANT esports.” The post said the North American region will have its tournament first but doesn’t give any indication that the rules would be different for each region.
The wording in the EMEA Game Changers posts has been incredibly specific. The announcement for the EMEA tournament says “the VCT Game Changers programme aims to foster an inclusive environment for competition and create safe opportunities for women to compete without fear of identity or gender-based harassment.”
Marginalized genders include “transgender women, cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary individuals, and all gender identities which have been systematically oppressed by those in power throughout history,” according to Women for Political Change.
Riot has continued to expand VALORANT into the MENA region, including opening a data center in Bahrain and building a local office in Dubai, since the game launched last year. Those moves were made to give MENA players a more “competitive, direct connection to the VALORANT servers.”
The company has previously fallen under fire for its ties to Saudi Arabia, including in July 2020 when the League European Championship partnered with NEOM, a city development backed by the Saudi government. As a result of the Kingdom’s laws and punishments towards LGBTQ+ persons, many prominent League of Legends community figures spoke out, including some of Riot’s own broadcasters, against the partnership. It was terminated just hours after the partnership was announced.