If you’ve never heard of Team MAJKL, you better learn the name.
MAJKL is a new powerhouse in competitive Valorant, a 5v5 tactical shooter video game released by Riot Games in June. The team became the first all-women squad to win a Riot-sponsored championship title Sunday, taking home first place — and $25,000 — in the FTW Summer Showdown without dropping a single map.
The FTW Summer Showdown, co-hosted by FTW: For The Women and Nerd Street Gamers, was part of Riot’s Valorant Ignition Series, a set of tournaments designed to foster the game’s fast-growing esports scene. Out of the 21 Ignition Series events, FTW Summer Showdown was the only women’s tournament.
Twelve all-women teams competed in the group stage, vying for a $50,000 prize pool sponsored by T1, G Fuel and Riot. About 15,000 viewers tuned in to watch MAJKL take down GX3 in the grand finals 2-0 for its first-place finish.
“I still can’t believe that I was able to lead a tournament of this size and scale with Riot’s backing. It was a dream come true to work with legends like the CLG Red and Dignitas players,” said Ali “aloe” Berkey, event coordinator at Nerd Street Gamers. “I’ve been watching them play for years, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to describe how happy I was to be able to organize this tournament for them.”
As the event lead for the Summer Showdown, Berkey wrote the tournament format and managed event operations. The tournament was originally planned to be a one-day event with a $10,000 prize pool, but when Riot signed on with an additional $40,000, it was expanded to run from Friday to Sunday.
The Summer Showdown’s qualifying stage was open to the public, which presented some unique challenges for the organizers. The final $50,000 pool wasn’t announced until after the qualifiers were over to prevent ill intentions from affecting the competition.
“We kind of had to keep an eye on who was being true and wasn’t just claiming that they’re a trans woman to get in the tournament. That happened during the qualifiers,” Berkey said. “There were (registrants) who were making fun of the tournament on their Twitter accounts. I was like, OK, this is a troll, and we’re not going to allow them to play.”
Esports is a male-dominated industry in which female competitors often face online harassment, among other challenges. Although there have been several notable examples of female players competing at the highest level, such as Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon of the Overwatch League, it is still uncommon to see women at the top of any game’s competitive scene.
“I’ve been playing video games my whole life, but in high school, I got really badly bullied for it like a lot of women do. I stopped playing for about five years,” Berkey said. “People will always find an opportunity to tell you that what you like is wrong, and that’s kind of a target that women have on their back. I hope that target is diminished, with more women knowing they can grind out a game and be as good as the boys. That’s what I want to see from this tournament.”
Team MAJKL agrees that women can compete at all levels, and it’s aiming for the big leagues.
“Our biggest goal is not to be the best girl team — that’ll happen, I’m not too worried about that — but our goal is to be a tier-one team,” said Melanie “meL” Capone, captain of MAJKL, in a postgame interview with Nerd Street Gamers. “We want to be the first full-girl team to compete at tier one.”
There’s still some way to go before MAJKL achieves that goal. The team is currently unsigned, meaning that no major esports organization sponsors it and that it competes without a formal infrastructure and resources.
Even the team’s name reflects its independent status: Each letter in MAJKL represents the first name of one of the team’s players. If the team was to be picked up by an esports organization, it’d likely take on that brand’s identity or a variation of it.
MAJKL isn’t content to rest on its championship laurels. The team is determined to keep grinding and reach the top of its game, all while paving the way for other women in Valorant esports.
“Don’t be deterred by any of the a—holes bullying you in ranked or things that you read online that say you can’t do it or there hasn’t been someone who’s done it,” Capone said. “You can be the first one to do it; there’s nothing stopping you. You got this. I hope MAJKL can prove that so we can make that evident to all the girls moving forward.”