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Since official Overwatch League news began rolling out last November, the Los Angeles Valiant have been one of the most active teams when it comes to putting their players out there and being a driving force for esports. They’ve been just as busy outside of the game as well, focusing on community outreach with their recently announced “Be Valiant” campaign. Featuring four events for the inaugural season including a block party at their campus, a fan art show, the Girls in Gaming Summit, and a pride party in West Hollywood, the Valiant are hoping to encourage new and old fans from all walks of life to jump on the esports train. Valiant CEO, Noah Whinston, spoke with Proving Grounds not only about Be Valiant, but also how esports teams are involved in game development.

Be Valiant is a really cool project. Not many teams are doing outreach like that. What was the thought process behind it?

I think for us, the Be Valiant campaign was the combination of a few things. One was the desire to really do more in a community sense, which is really what esports teams should be doing as part of Overwatch League. The other thing is an understanding that – as much as we like to celebrate gaming as a universal and global community – there are certain communities within it that just don’t get the access to the benefits or access to the community as others. So we really wanted to make sure that not only were we creating an organization for anyone in Los Angeles, but also celebrating people in Los Angeles that help make our team what it is, even if they aren’t visible some of the time as the broader gaming community. So for us, being able to celebrate fans – and in some ways heroize fans – that are part of groups or subgroups within the broader community was a really important task for us. And to be able to show not just other esports fans, but people that might not have even watched esports yet, that this truly is a community in which people of every subcommunity within it can come together and partake.

Noah Whinston – Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Valiant

It was suggested at GDC that esports teams and owners might have a heavy hand in developing competitive titles down the road. Do you think there’s any weight to that?

I think there are two different pieces to that. One is, do we have an impact on how a developer patches a game? Overwatch is a game that has existed for awhile, and there are regular patches that are uploaded to it. From what I know from our players and talking to players on other teams, Activision-Blizzard does seek feedback from its professionals before changing the balance of the game.

If you’re asking about games that have yet to be released – so building a game from the ground up – absolutely teams currently have roles working with publishers to try to help them customize or optimize their games for esports. I don’t think we’re ever going to make our own game, but I do think that there’s definitely a role to play for esports organizations when it comes to the way they interact with publishers to transform games from pure games to games that can support an esports ecosystem. We’ve been very fortunate with Activision-Blizzard that the core Overwatch IP was sort of naturally suited to esports, and there just needs to be patches once in awhile to keep the meta fresh and to keep things balanced.

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The future of esports is looking brighter – and more relevant – than ever. As franchised leagues continue to sprout up, more teams and organizations will be able to connect with fans and the gaming industry on a much more intimate level. Esports industry leaders like Noah Whinston are working hard to promote inclusivity within the community, create better esports titles with developers, and ensure that local markets have teams worthy of supporting.

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