‘If you play casually, people are like savages.’
Mark Louis F. Ferrolino
Paolo L. Lopez
Fortunato V. Dañas
Sam L. Marcelo
Kyung-in “Tr1cks” Lee was sitting in front of a screen, playing an online game when the voice of some guy came through her headphones and, in much ruder language, asked her who she had to sleep with to get to her rank. Ms. Lee, captain of an all-female professional electronic sports (esports) team, fields these vulgar comments all the time. The disparagement is annoying, she said, since she climbed the ranks through solo queue—that is, on her own merit.
Ms. Lee and the rest of the members of the ArkAngel CSGO Female Pro Team recently sat down with BusinessWorld to talk about what it’s like to be women in the flourishing world of esports.
The team is about to compete in the grand finals of the Word Electronic Sports Games (WESG) 2018-2019 season to be held in China from March 7 to 17, after bringing home the gold medal in the women’s division of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) at WESG Southeast Asia last December.
“If you play casually, people are like savages,” Joy Maria “Joy” delos Reyes said. Her teammate, Shara Mari “Kuchiii” Koshikawa, added: “When they know you’re a girl, sometimes they kick you.” (“Kick” here means to boot a player out of a game.)
“If you play casually, people are like savages”
The members agreed that it was sometimes better to turn off their microphones in a match against random players—even if that would mean putting themselves at a disadvantage—than to deal with the misogyny that pervades esports.
Communication is essential in CS:GO, a multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed by Hidden Path Entertainment and Valve Corporation. Winning a match rests heavily on a team’s ability to relay in-game information such as how many opponents might be lurking in a specific location. If shutting off their mics isn’t a viable option, then the members of ArkAngel shift to another strategy: pretending that they’re prepubescent 12-year-old boys whose voices haven’t dropped.
Gender discrimination against female gamers can take several forms, including inappropriate comments (Jiles Korine “Laire” Buenviaje was told to “go back to the kitchen”) and unconscious bias in favor of male gamers. To illustrate the latter, Ms. Lee said that it is a common scenario for a less-competent male gamer to be chosen by a team over his female counterpart.
The leader of the ArkAngel team speaks from experience. While playing at a tournament in America, people repeatedly questioned her spot on a mostly male team. “They asked my captain at that time, ‘Why do you have a girl in your team? Like, of all the players you could have picked in America, why did you choose this girl?,’” she said.
Thankfully, two of her teammates came to her defense, saying that Ms. Lee deserved to be there—there was nothing “token” about her spot on the team. “It was the first time I ever heard a male player stand up for me based on my skills,” she said.
WAITING FOR THE CULTURE TO CATCH UP
In reality, esports is no longer the male-dominated space it used to be. According to a report released in 2018 by the Entertainment Software Association, 45% of gamers in the US are female, and adult women represent a greater portion of the video game-playing population at 33% than males under 18 years of age at 17%.
Although the demographics have changed, gaming culture has not. Eyeballing the competitive scene shows only a few women in the upper echelons. The issue is not one of competence but of confidence. “You can’t always take everything people say online to heart, and that’s something that a lot of them [female gamers] do,” she said, adding that “it gets hard especially in the pro scene.”
To equal the playing field, esports organizers have either mounted female-only tournaments or added female divisions to general tournaments. For instance, the WESG, an international esports championship tournament based in Shanghai organized by AliSports, started in 2016 with only four games then expanded to include female divisions in 2017.
Also worth noting is the Female ESports League (FSL), an annual league for female gamers that aims to grow the number of competitive female gamers and to see them compete in top-tier tournaments.
As early as 2005, an organization called Women in Games International (WIGI) has been promoting the inclusion and advancement of women in the global gaming industry. The organization stands as strong advocates for issues crucial to the success of women and men in the gaming industry, including a better work-life balance, healthy working conditions, increased opportunities for success, and resources for career support.
“Females really have a place in eSports scene. If they choose to have it, they can choose to enter that scene. And whether or not they excel in it is really their own choice,” Ms. Lee said.
SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL
While female-only tournaments do provide a platform for women in the industry, some women view them as a means for segregation instead of integration and acceptance.
“When you enter the female scene, you can’t leave it. There is this sudden wall that people say, ‘You’re part of the female tournaments.’ It’s like you’re not part of the general tournaments anymore,” said Ms. Lee.
“So advantages, disadvantages: You have a spot, but it’s almost like you can’t break free from it,” Ms. Lee said.
Esports is on a promising track and the inclusion of women in the industry—both on stage and behind the scenes—is critical for its overall success. “Esports wasn’t made just for guys. It was made for gamers, and gamers don’t mean guys only. It means whoever loves games,” Ms. Lee said.