A Woman’s Touch – What Esports Desperately Needs

The first documented “esports” event occurred at Stanford University in October 1972 with a Space Invaders tournament dubbed the “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics.” The event attracted more than 10,000 gamers from around the world and established the prospect of official competitions in video games for all time. Today, esports is a billion-dollar industry supported by competitive games like “Fortnite,” “League of Legends,” and dozens of other fan favorites. 

Since ‘72, there has been a drastic shift in gamer demographics. Once dominated by a young white male player base, today’s games are played by an increasingly diverse population of all races and genders. According to a 2019 study by Statista, women now account for 46 percent of the overall gaming population, yet only comprise less than 10 percent of esports rosters.

As the #Gamergate controversy of 2014 showed us, the gaming community holds a deep undercurrent of misogyny and general lack of respect for women. Common stereotypes imply women primarily play video games for attention and clout, lacking the same seriousness as their male counterparts. This notion has no inkling of truth according to Kyung In Lee.

Bruce Baumgart, winner of the first esports tournament. Courtesy of Bequipe.com

Lee is known as “Tr1cks” in the esports arena. During an interview fittingly held over Discord, a go-to chat service for gamers, the 24-year-old professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or “CS:GO” player stated that as a woman, other gamers have assumed that she was “boosted” or carried to her success by better male players rather than having earned it on her own. She reveals that before signing with an all-female team, she attempted to join several mixed teams only to be passed up each time for a male player that she had proven herself to be better than.

Tr1cks playing a retake match in CS:GO. Screenshot by Kyung In Lee.

Unlike physical sports, which justify gender divisions with increasingly less reliable arguments about differing anatomies and physical capabilities between men and women, esports is an arena where a player’s mind matters more than their physical ability. There are no studies proving any significant differences between the latent skill of male and female gamers, making any contrary assertions completely speculative and likely discriminatory.

Tr1cks believes the separation between men and women in team-based esports leagues is unnecessary and can foster bad habits amongst the women’s teams that, due to thinner competition and lower expectations, aren’t always pushed as hard as their male counterparts.

At team meetings, Tr1cks reminds her teammates to look past their short term goal of beating their league’s female teams to the long term goal of one day competing against male teams. Her dream was never to be the best female player. Instead, she aims to stand on the same stage as the world’s best gamers and be recognized as one herself. “There’s nothing stopping us except ourselves,” she says, hopeful to impart that same dedication to her teammates.

Players like Tr1cks are not scarce, but they often go unnoticed behind male professionals with larger followings. Still, more than ever before, top female esports gamers like Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, Ricki Ortiz, and many others are putting in the hours and effort to prove that women truly are just as good as male gamers.

“This is what I do, I love it. I’m good at it, I deserve this,” said Tr1cks who urges all female gamers who dream of playing professionally to recall why they play rather than why others say they shouldn’t. Biases against women exist everywhere, and there will always be someone that’ll say you’re not good enough. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t you feel better doing what you love? “I know it’s difficult, I know it’s scary, and I know it’s really intimidating, but everything else in the world is too. It won’t be easy, but at least it’ll be fun,” Tr1cks said.

Atlanta is home to esports teams like Atlanta Reign (Overwatch), Hawks Talon (NBA 2k) and the recently established Atlanta FaZe (Call of Duty). The city is already an esports hub with an official arena currently under construction at the Mall of Georgia.

The esports industry has a vacancy that needs to be filled. New competitive games are constantly being released and existing games are altering their models to become more competitive. The need for new talent is constant, and there has never been a better time for women to get in the game.

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