It matters not whether the top Esports players can bench press 200 pounds or two pounds. It matters not whether they are fast, a future doctor or someone with no formal education at all. Those admissions have caused some to discredit the immense skill that goes into Esports — the world of online gaming that has become more competitive with every passing day.
Esports competitors fight those stereotypes, and women who step into this competitive realm often face a myriad of other stereotypical assumptions.
Anna Nguyen is one of only two women on the 46-person Esports varsity team at the University of Oregon. She told the campus student publication, The Daily Emerald, that during her freshman year, she was immersed in a conversation when a male student asked her what role she played in the popular game Overwatch (a first-person shooter game where teams of six select their role from a roster of “heroes”).
“Oh, of course you do,” the male student responded to her role.
Nguyen knew what he meant. Of course, a female gamer would play a support role. That was the stereotype the male student brought to the table. She rolled her eyes.
That stereotype is likely born from unwitting ignorance that women make up 41 percent of Esports competitors now, yet Nguyen is one of just two women on the 46-person Oregon team.
Barriers to entry keep women from attaining the same status as their male counterparts, and many are turned away by a world often rife with misogyny and disrespect.
The members of Team Liquid spoke very candidly with Forbes this spring about the obstacles they have overcome to emerge as one of the top competitive teams in Esports.
Slysssa, a Hearthstone pro-player, streams all day and studies other professionals at night, yet she still faces accusations of cheating or faces bewilderment when she beats her male counterpart.
Slysssa told Forbes, “I’ve been accused of cheating numerous times; pro players on the scene have even claimed I’ve co-opped with male gamers.”
One of her teammates, Alixxa, told Forbes, “One of the most frustrating things is having someone undermine all the hard work, endless hours, and constant sacrifices that I made to succeed.”
Esports is a massive industry now, with the top players bringing in six to seven-figure winnings. Whether male or female, these leading competitors spend hours, weeks, months, and certainly years perfecting a craft that keeps their competitors at bay.
Sasha Hostyn, a Canadian StarCraft II player, has brought in more than 4,000, and those earnings place her tops in the world. The top American female is Katherine Gunn, who has also brought in six figures by competing in multiple games. Their greatness is the result of no less hard work than what their male counterparts put in.
While Esports is a relatively new industry compared to other forms of competition, there is a segmenting of men and women in certain games. Multiple studies have shown women are less likely to choose first-person shooter games, so while women make up more than 40 percent of all gaming, they represent under 10 percent of all first-person shooter competitors.
“When people realize that you’re a female who’s gaming, you gain a lot of unwanted attention,” says Leyla Gillett, a freshman Overwatch Esports player interviewed in the aforementioned Daily Emerald story. “People tend to focus more on you being female and not what you have to offer to the game.”
For those yearning for more respect for female gamers, there is good news. Many players report a fading away of the tired stereotypes that have turned off many competitors.
That progress starts in the home.
“Parents: please don’t tell your daughters that video games are for boys,” Slysssa encouraged. “I can’t tell you how many girls I know feel left out because we were taught that girls don’t do that.”
If you are not familiar with the emerging Esports world, broaden your horizons. This Vice short film chronicles women in Esports and the intense pressure that comes with competing at the highest level.
It matters not how “athletic” the top players are, but the anticipation, planning, preparation and quick decision making that goes into playing at the highest level is enough to garner our adoration.