With global revenues soaring above the billion-dollar mark in 2019, it’s safe to say that the esports industry is currently booming. Millions of viewers across the world are tuning in to witness both amateurs and professionals battle it out for supremacy in various online video games. But what sort of role do women play in such a male-dominated arena? The following guide will not only uncover the obstacles faced by female gamers in general but also reveal the massive potential of women to drive the esports industry into an even higher level of profitability and popularity.
Female involvement within esports is on the rise, with a 2019 report claiming that 35% of gamers playing on a PC or console were women. The world of competitive gaming is certainly making strides to encourage more young girls and women to get involved.
Despite this positive trend, the majority of female gamers still face prejudice and harassment on a daily basis. Even the esports elite are subject to streams of abuse, generally from fans, but also from other players and coaches too. Unfortunately, insults are commonplace within online gaming platforms, irrespective of gender. Yet, it is much more common for women to mute their microphones for fear of a backlash, or at least until they have ‘proven’ themselves to their male counterparts. And even then, the level of toxicity within the playing field can remain, and in many cases, result in the departure of women from the industry as a whole. The following case highlights the dramatic impact of such relentless hostility.
Maria Creveling, known predominantly as Remilia, was the first woman to compete at the highest level in the hugely popular League of Legends Championship Series. Arguably the biggest game on the esports market, League of Legends continues to outperform its rivals in terms of audience, with the game’s 2020 World tournament attracting more than 3.8 million spectators. Hence, Maria’s involvement created plenty of commotion across the community.
However, her breakthrough was not quite the inspiration many fans had hoped for. As soon as she stepped onto the scene, Remilia was inundated with torrential abuse. Not just for being a woman, but also for being transgender, on the basis of her appearance, her abilities, practically every aspect of her being was inspected and criticized with reckless abandon. Needless to say, Creveling withdrew from her team’s roster after only a few weeks into the season, citing the adverse effect of the abuse on her mental health.
Aside from putting up with such habitual mistreatment, women within the game have also been subject to unfair allegations. Kim Se-Yeon, aka Geguri, received worldwide attention in 2016 due to accusations of cheating in an Overwatch tournament. Three professional players and their coach filed the allegations after claiming that 16-year-old Geguri’s performance was simply “too good,” specifically the young Korean’s exceptional aim.
Fortunately, an investigation proved her innocence, and, unfazed, Geguri went on to become the first female player in the Overwatch League, joining the Shanghai Dragons and was named one of Time magazine’s 2019 Next Generation Leaders.
Regardless of these obstacles, statistics show that female participation is growing year after year, and, just like Geguri, there are many more role models for young gamers to look up to. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a handful of the best female esports professionals in the business.
1. Sasha Hostyn
Adopting the username Scarlett and currently playing without a team, Sasha Hostyn is renowned as the highest-earning woman in esports gaming. With a career spanning almost a decade, this Canadian powerhouse has a string of accolades under her belt, with her most significant achievement taking place at the Intel Extreme Masters in PyeongChang, 2018. As the only female to qualify for the event, Scarlett edged out favorites to secure the crown, becoming the first woman in history to win a major StarCraft II tournament.
2. Li Xiaomeng
China’s Li Xiaomeng, known on the scene as Liooon, has set similar precedents in the quick-fire card game of Hearthstone. In California 2019, Liooon thrashed her opponent 3-0 in the Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Finals, becoming not only the first woman to win the competition but also the first female to hold any BlizzCon title, netting her a cool $200,000 in the process. Her acceptance speech at the event offered plenty of encouragement for female fans seeking inspiration in a field dominated by men.
3. Katherine Gunn
American professional gamer Kat Gunn, or Mystik, was once the highest-paid female in the division until Scarlett came along and toppled her throne. And that in spite of the fact that she has participated in relatively few tournaments. Her fame was established during her involvement in the second and final season of the reality TV show, WCG Ultimate Gamer, in 2010. Gunn went on to win the competition playing Halo: Reach, which secured a prize jackpot of $100,000 and a spot in the female esports hall of fame.
4. Rumay Wang
Placed in the top five of esports’ highest earners, Rumay Wang has several gaming fortes, including World of Warcraft, Bloodline Champions, Hearthstone, and Legends of Runeterra. This US professional, who plays under the pseudonym Hafu for G2 Esports, has racked up the most prize money, however, from her skills in the auto battler title, Teamfight Tactics. Hafu is also popular on Twitch and has spoken out about the harassment rife on such forums and across the industry as a whole.
5. Imane Anys
Known online as Pokimane, Imane Anys is the most popular female streamer on Twitch, with over 6.5 million followers. Her rise to stardom began with Pokimane’s unique gameplay in Fortnite and League of Legends, which has landed the Canadian Moroccan gamer some sizeable winnings. Aside from Twitch, Pokimane also draws in the masses as a content creator on other hit platforms, such as YouTube and TikTok, and is a member of the Offline TV collaboration.
Are Twitch Babes Harming Women in Esports?
So-called Twitch Babes represent a collection of women who combine video gaming with scantily clad outfits and overt sexual behavior. Some may view this as harmful to female gamers who want to be taken seriously. Yet, in essence, these women have the right to do whatever they want, within the rules of the platform, without reproach, particularly from men, and their actions should have no bearing on professional female gamers and the respect they deserve.
Women Only Esports Teams and Leagues
The draw of playing as part of a female team or participating in women-only tournaments is obvious, as women gamers are then free to go about their business in a much more welcoming environment. Introducing such leagues and events encourages more young women to take part in a setting where confidence is nurtured, and skills are cultivated without any hint of sexism or hostility.
Arguably the scene’s most triumphant team at the moment is Dignitas, an American female squad that has several impressive accolades in their locker, including 1st place at Intel Challenge Katowice (2018 and 2019) and 1st place at the Girl Gamer Esports Festival (2017 and 2018), with Dignitas securing 2nd place at the latter’s 2020 edition.
Tournaments created purely for women have proven hugely successful in the past couple of years. One of the most prestigious events, the Intel Challenge, established a $50,000 prize pool for the 2019 IEM Katowice, although this long-running Counter-Strike: Global Offensive event was inexplicably removed from the agenda in 2020.
Dreamhack upped the game in July 2019 by creating a CS: GO all-girl showdown with a prize pool double that of IEM. Despite this step in the right direction in terms of monetary value, the tournament once again fuelled sexism by oddly titling the jackpot as a ‘$100,000 prize purse’.
As valuable as these types of competitions are right now, they should not be necessary, and the hope is that in the future, the parity between male and female gamers will reach a level where women-only events no longer need to exist.
With the gaming industry hitting new heights, particularly in the primarily locked down year of 2020, it’s up to everyone involved in the community to make esports inclusive. In perhaps the only sport where men and women can compete on an even playing field, recruiting more female gamers can only bring added value to the entire scene. But it’s up to businesses and organizers to create competitions free from abuse. It’s up to male players to take a stand and shut down bullying when they hear it, and it’s up to women to rise above current hurdles and strive for an esports future in which gender no longer plays a role.