Back in the 1990s, it was deemed odd at best to see a girl playing video games. Usually, if a girl enjoyed playing video games she was labeled as a tom-boy. Video games were not for girls, they were seen as too violent and competitive. Video games were only marketed towards boys – they were deemed a ‘no girls allowed’ club. Certainly, the past has presumed female video gamers to be in the minority but times are changing, since 2010, female gamers have made up half the population of total gamers and it is easy to see why. Video games are the perfect environment for women to showcase their talents in an environment where they’re not judged solely on their appearance – physical attributes are of no importance whatsoever – thus, women are able to game freely without any reference to their gender, at least in theory. Thus, women are now able to make careers for themselves out of professional gaming.
Unfortunately, despite female gamers making up around half the population of total gamers, the world of competitive gaming is still a man’s world. The internet can be a toxic place to be for anyone, but for a female gamer trying to forge a career for herself as an eSport athlete in a highly competitive and testosterone fueled environment, it is even tougher.
Despite the aforementioned stat of female gamers making up half of all gamers, there is still a huge discrepancy surrounding the number of professional, competitive, female eSport athletes compared to their male counterparts. There is still the outdated presumption that only boys like gaming therefore only boys can be good at gaming. In eSports, a lot of the time, if a girl enters a server, the males in the same online server will not want to be teamed up with her because they will assume she is bad – she is a girl after all. It is similar in most sports – mainstream sports are played by men and watched by men – our patronizing view of women as emotional and harmless figures who are better off away from any competitive environments needs to end – as does the sexist toxicity directed towards women gamers who just want to play video games.
Ksenia ‘Vilga’ Klyuenkova, a female eSport athlete from Russia reveals that “Every female, no matter if she is a professional gamer or not receives this hate from the very beginning. I’ve met tons of it and unless you get used to it you cannot survive in the eSports community.” Regarding how Ksenia copes with the constant abuse, she says “I feel that females have been always treated as a weak gender – this is how it is – so either you fight and prove them wrong, or you give up. And I don’t choose the second option.” Ksenia plays a game called Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) a first-person shooter which is heavily male dominated. A recent study compiled by Quanticfoundry.com shows that the majority of female gamers play the ‘match’ and ‘simulator’ genre of games (69%) whilst only a small majority play first person shooter games (7%). When there are only seven women for every 100 males it is – as unfortunate as it may sound – not a surprise that sexism is rife. Ksenia also believes that the problem is “almost impossible to control” and that “even underage children (CSGO is rated 18+) are talking so much trash because they think it’s normal.” Because of this constant abuse from some members of the gaming community, it often takes a large amount of mental strength and resolve for a female professional gamer to stick at it as a career choice.
However, Ksenia and other female pro gamers also look at the criticism they receive in a
positive way. Petra Stoker, another pro CSGO player believes that the initial toxicity she receives soon comes to an end once they realise that she is a good player: “Sometimes in the beginning of a match I get flamed really badly but when they notice I’m actually a decent player they turn into nice teammates. And when I get flamed by the opponent its mostly because I’m killing them.” Although, there is still no escaping the sexist comments directed at her, she says: “I really don’t care about the famous kitchen comments, but what I really hate the most is that people call me a stupid whore. The worse thing that ever happened to me was when someone threatened to kill me. But luckily he was punished and banned from the event.” Despite the fact that there has been, since 2010, just as many female video gamers as male gamers, the rampant sexism communicated in the in-game chat is as strong as ever.
But do women play games differently from men? First of all, it is apparent that women are less likely to suffer from an inflated ego or aggressive outbursts when things do not go their own way. In terms of competitive skill, however, should there be much of a difference between men and women? There are women who have been extremely successful in eSports, Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn and Katherine ‘Mystik’ Gunn being the obvious examples. There is no distinct skill set that should make male gamers better than female gamers and vice versa. So what it really comes down to is passion for gaming itself and the passion to forge a career out of playing games.
Petra recalls watching her dad play games when she was really young, even watching someone else play a game was fun for her. She reveals exactly what sold her on gaming: “I used to watch my Dad play games when I was really young. It was a really good time and sometimes my twin sister would join us too. Later on, when they didn’t play anymore, I started to play alone and when I was 11 I already played competitive Unreal Tournament. I played in a team with older men. When I noticed that I was pretty good at gaming I enjoyed it even more because who doesn’t like to do something where they are good at?”
Caly ‘Fabenfuchs’, is a gamer and has forged a career for herself as a streamer of eSports. Caly has enjoyed video games for her whole life: “I watched my father playing Tomb Raider when I couldn’t even read, got my Gameboy when I was 5 years old and loved it. I also played on the PC and the Wii. My parents never wanted to gift me a PlayStation when I was younger, so I only played Smash Bros and Mario Kart on Wii. But yes, if I had more possibilities earlier, I would’ve played more games.” Caly now makes a living from streaming video games online via her Twitch channel and although she admits to people begrudging her success and talking behind her back, she is extremely happy in her career.
Are female only tournaments an effective way to integrate women into eSports? There isn’t any male only tournaments so why should there be female only ones? Petra believes that at the moment it is fine but says in the future, when men and women are on a similar level, it would be good to “mix it up”. Ksenia believes that females would benefit from competing in tournaments because of the “official match experience” and thinks that the “moment a female team beats a male team in an official match, the negative attitude to female gamers skill level will change for sure.” Also, if female gamers are to continue to progress and step up the career ladder – it is important they’re able to compete with and beat the male pro gamers.
ESports pro ‘Julia ‘CSGO’ Strunkowski believes that female eSports athletes will only improve and get the respect they deserve once they start competing against male teams she says: The problem with female only events is that we are staying on the same level. Right now my me and my team are trying to become better as a team, to win events but we don’t really need much to win it. If we could play against males, we would need to do even more and harder work for it. I really hope that one day some girls fight hard enough and put more time into the game so that there will be a girl who competes with and against males.”
Despite the toxicity directed towards female gamers, the future for women in eSports looks set to be bright. Although eSports have come under some scrutiny regarding eSports betting in recent times – there are still a lot of sites offering it – clearly the position of women in eSports is improving. Of course, there is still much work to be done if we are to fully witness the eSports scene to be one of equality. Until society accepts that women can be just as competitive and driven as men, then the same old stereotypes will continue to rear their ugly heads where they’re not needed. That being said, the gap between the number of male and female pro eSport athletes looks set to shrink. With just as many regular female gamers as men, there is no reason why female eSport athletes cannot match their male counterparts in terms of skill and competiveness, plus the fact that it is now seen as socially acceptable to be a female gamer will only help pave the way for more women to become involved in gaming. The British Esports association are of the opinion that the number of successful pro female eSport athletes will rise in the coming years – more women are set to take the chance of building a livelihood for themselves out of gaming.
It is clear that a lot of the sexism towards female gamers is a consequence of misconceptions surrounding a girl’s ability to play and be successful at gaming. Therefore, it would make sense to conclude that, although far from perfect, as more and more women play games, more and more pro women gamers will go on to achieve the success and fame that male gamers have achieved and from that, professional women gamers will receive the respect and admiration that they deserve.