Christine “Potter” Chi And Her Evil Geniuses Made History
4:47 PM EDT on August 27, 2023
Four weeks into the season, Evil Geniuses were the laughingstock of the Valorant Champions Tour. As is their wont in traditional sports and esports alike, fans were calling for some heads, preferably the coach's, to roll.
At the time, Evil Geniuses were 1-4 on the season. Their only win came against KRÜ, a team that would proceed to go winless during the regular season. In their regular-season game against LOUD, Evil Geniuses became the first team in VCT history to lose 13-0 in a map. The organization was embroiled in scandal, the team wildly unpopular on social media, and somehow those two points were unrelated. The team itself wasn't notable enough to be despised or resented, even if their organization was—their pitiful unpopularity was due to apathy, which flowed easily into mockery. A few other teams performed as poorly as them; no other team was as singularly pathetic.
Through all of this, Evil Geniuses were coached by Christine "Potter" Chi. Like many people in the Valorant scene, Potter came from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, where she found success playing in the professional women's scene before becoming an analyst. She was a player for Evil Geniuses during the first few months of her Valorant tenure, before taking over as coach for the 2022 season. Even as the team underwent a huge roster overhaul, potter remained constant, which naturally opened her to criticism. Though discussion on Reddit was more muted by typical Reddit standards, alleged reporter and broadly behated pox on the scene George Geddes was both calling for Potter to be fired and reporting that she had one month to show results. (At the time of the tweet, there was less than a month left in the regular season.)
Whatever the truth of the report, results came: Evil Geniuses went 3-1 for the rest of the season and, thanks to MIBR beating 100 Thieves, squeaked into the Americas League playoffs. There, they came third, and despite losing more games than they won in the regular season, earned themselves a place at Masters Tokyo, the second international competition of the year, and Champions, the final and largest.
Evil Geniuses were plucky underdogs coming in—a group of supposedly Tier 2 players who had managed to punch far above their weight. But in Tokyo, they kept winning. They dominated in the group stages, and continued to dominate throughout the playoffs, beating the likes of LOUD, who had 13-0'd them during the regular season, and Paper Rex, who'd won the Pacific League (though it should be noted that Paper Rex were playing with a substitute due to visa issues). The only team Evil Geniuses dropped a game to was Fnatic, twice—once in the upper bracket finals, and again in the Grand Finals. They came away with a second-place spot in an international event, and lost the benefit of being underdogs going into Champions.
You can play an arc like that two ways. One is to lean into being the likable, plucky team that had proven the haters wrong. The other is to make everyone who hated on you hate you even more. And, oh boy, did the team go all in on the second option. After Masters Tokyo, their in-game leader Kelden "Boostio" Pupello started shit-talking everything that walked. When asked about being considered the villain in a post-match interview, their star player Max "Demon1" Mazanov declared, "I don't give a fuck what you say about me. You can call me whatever you want." Evil Geniuses clicked heads and then, once the round was over, took their time in shooting the bodies too. They hit one stumbling block by losing to Paper Rex in the upper bracket finals, like how they'd lost to Fnatic at Tokyo, except this time, they returned with a vengeance to face Paper Rex again in the grand finals and won.
While her players talked, Potter was always more stoic, but no less firm in her sentiments. "At first, it was a bit tricky because I'm not that flamboyant or edgy on social media ... but these guys have been shit on in social media all year long, right, including myself," she said. "So I think that they're young and they're just having fun ... The confidence is getting higher and higher, and it's reflecting in game. So for me, you know what? Whatever works. Whatever gets us the edge in the server is what I'm going to root for."
There are reasons why the cheers were loudest when Potter raised the first-place trophy herself. For one, even if the Evil Geniuses villain arc soured on you—wrestling-style heel turns don't always play out well in non-scripted sports leagues—Potter was still an easy figure to root for. For another, while the entire team was routinely mocked throughout the season, the coach, also usually held responsible for scouting and roster construction in esports, almost always catches the most flak on an underperforming team, and the feeling of vindication rises in proportion when success comes.
And lastly and unavoidably, Potter is a woman coaching at the highest level of international esports competition, in an industry dominated by men. She occupies the tricky position reserved for women fashioned into trailblazers, whether they like it or not, by simply existing. To be a woman in esports is to be a Woman in Esports™. During the season, those following the tour made the occasionally awkward effort to avoid mentioning her gender when tallying up her successes and failures; after all, if you want to normalize the presence of women in esports, you can't keep gawking at the ones who exist, no matter how well-intentioned it is. The scrutiny Potter received during the season also cut both ways: Was the criticism more intense because she is a woman, or was it what any coach of a struggling team should expect? That's the liminal space in which Potter won her championship: caught between acknowledgment and intentional elision; inside an inability to prove or disprove the validity of criticism.
It's not surprising that back in March, Potter described herself as having "blinders on." If there's one thing that Evil Geniuses have proven, it's that the only way out is through, and potter coached the team she helped construct all the way through the season, turning them into unlikely champions. After all of that, she can be viewed in context, becoming the first woman to win an international event in an FPS game, after Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn became the first woman to win a major in Starcraft 2, and Li "Liooon" Xiaomeng became the first woman to win the Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Final. The expectations are high, but both Potter and Evil Geniuses have already proven that they don't need to be underestimated to win. The floor is theirs now. Only next season will reveal what else they can do with it.