I almost didn’t write this story. Frankly, I’m tired—no, downright exhausted—by the constant dictation of what should make me angry in this world. If social media comments and woefully under-researched article pitches are to be believed, women esports teams should either make me very happy or inconsolably outraged.
About 10 years ago, it was brought to my attention that being a girl who plays video games is something that makes me special or unusual. I guess it does, statistically speaking (at least the unusual part), but I never could understand why that was a big deal.
The subject of girls vs. boys in gaming has been beaten to death, resurrected, and beaten to death again more times than a player in Dark Souls. And yet, the debate rages on, and here I am writing about it again. But this time, I realized something—it’s been a while since someone was shocked by my gamer declaration.
Could attitudes be changing?
My first foray into video game journalism was writing for a site called GirlGamer. (No relation to the GIRL GAMER Esports Festival.) I quickly moved up over a two-year span from contributing writer to Editor-in-Chief. I loved my job. Our forums were a place of beauty; all jokes and friend requests and gamertags galore. More than a few clans were born on that site and I was proud of the safe place I helped to nurture and grow.
It wasn’t until I began receiving messages from guys that it really started to bother me. These weren’t trolls or creeps, mind you, but normal gamers who wanted to warm themselves by the light of our supportive community.
“Would it be okay if I signed up?” they’d type, meekly. “I just want to find some nice people to play with.”
We in no way discouraged men from joining—they just didn’t know they were welcome. And that, to me, was a problem.
Co-ed esports prove girls can keep up
Do girls know they’re welcome in esports? It seems to me that if a girl can hold her own against the guys, she should be allowed to compete in any video game she wants.
“Forget your gender and just go for it,” said Xiaomeng “VKLiooon” Li, after winning the Hearthstone Grandmasters event at BlizzCon 2019. Li made history that day as the first woman to not only win a Hearthstone Grandmasters event, but the first woman to win a BlizzCon final. And she did it against the guys.
Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon is such a talented Overwatch player that she was accused of using an aimbot. She proved her innocence in a controlled environment and as of this writing, remains a star player on the Shanghai Dragons. Se-yeon is currently the only female player in the Overwatch League.
All-female teams like Dignitas Fe and CLG Red routinely play against—and defeat—both men and women in Counter-Strike.
Like many, I look at these shining examples and wonder why we have all-women esports teams at all. Do female esports players feel this way, too? Would they rather play on co-ed teams?
So, I did what any journalist would do. I asked.
It’s not “all-girl” or “nothing”
“When you play on a women’s team in this era of esports, it’s a preference,” five-time Counter-Strike world champion Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey told me. “I think women should play with whoever they’re comfortable with. That being said, I don’t think that women’s teams encourage women to only play with women.
“I think that women that feel the need to compete in [co-ed] tournaments will continue to do so, even if there are women’s teams. We’re not taking anything away by competing only with women.”
Harvey treasures the comradery she experienced playing with other girls—something she didn’t think was possible with the opposite sex. The team dynamic may have been different, but her gameplay was driven by the same thing as any pro gamer: to win.
“What I loved so much about playing on a women’s team was to beat guys,” Harvey laughed. “I wanted to prove that we could be just as good. That was my approach. I never thought that women had to play with other women, it was just what I wanted to do.”
Creating a beacon
Men assumed they couldn’t join GirlGamer because (for obvious reasons), a majority of its members were women. The more men that joined the site, however, the fewer messages I received asking for permission.
Esports is dominated by men for one major reason—that’s who shows up most often. Now imagine that you’re a young girl who loves esports. It would be understandable, seeing all those boys playing, that you don’t belong.
Diane “di^” Tran, a professional CS:GO player for CLG Red, remembers seeing her all-women esports team for the first time and imagining the possibilities.
“Just seeing other females succeed made me want to play more,” said Tran. “Eventually, I was able to join the team and it was a dream come true. Fourteen-year-old me would never in a million years think that I could do it.
“Seeing a female team in a male-dominated game was eye-opening for me. It led me to [the conclusion] that if I keep working hard and put in all this time, things will come out of it. And it did. I’m hoping that my team does the same thing for younger females in the scene.”
Tran agrees that women-only teams are just one option available.
“I think if females want to go the co-ed route, that’s awesome, too,” said Tran. “I don’t think anything should hold you back from what you want to do. In 2020, things have normalized a little bit because there are a lot more female gamers on Twitch. There are a bunch of [female] pros now, like [Lauren “Goddess” Williams] in Rainbow Six and Geguri in Overwatch.”
Racing toward change
W Series hosts an all-female esports team for one reason—its real-life single-seater racers are women, too. The championship series debuted in 2019 with the goal of highlighting talented female drivers on their journey to high-level mainstream racing events. Plans were already in place to host a W Series esports program, but COVID-19 threw it into high gear.
“For W Series Esports League, it was never really a question of whether it would be all-female,” said Gina Miller, Communications Executive for W Series Limited. “W Series wasn’t created because we believe that it’s important to segregate genders. The entire point is that we would feed successful women back into the existing series where they can compete against men.”
With the 2020 racing season cancelled, W Series’ 18 drivers have now turned to sim racing, which they have taken in stride. In fact, motor racing simulation is already a part of training so esports have come naturally to these women.
“I think where people have been critical [of W Series being all female] is that you’re endangering it by separating women,” added Miller. “But people who come around realize there just aren’t enough women racing. You just have to pump more people into it.”
Normalising women in esports
People gravitate toward careers based on social influence and media. Dozens of studies have been published about the impact that same-gender role models have on children and their desire to enter STEM-related fields. The same goes for esports.
It’s too easy to proclaim that all-girl esports teams exist solely for publicity or inclusion. In talking with women who actually put themselves out there—and win—it has become clear that everyone has their own reasons for joining up.
Bottom line? You can’t force diversity. Winning teams are based not on gender but on skill, communication, compatibility, personality, and attitude. Both men and women need to play with who they feel comfortable with, and that comes down to personality. That’s okay. Not all girls are going to want to play esports, and that’s okay too.
The first step to succeeding at anything is just showing up. And if more girls show up to play esports, it becomes less of a big deal for us all.