Is it possible to be a female “pro-gamer”?

Catriona Meechan 7 February 2014

While there is no apparent reason why women should under perform with video games, there are very few successful women in competitive gaming. The only one I am aware of is Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn, an excellent Starcraft II player. Although there have been attempts to start female teams for League of Legends and Dota2, they have not achieved anything noteworthy. Although this is partially due to the lack of women playing games at all, the gaming community can also be very hostile towards women. In terms of female participation, gaming faces many of the same problems that chess does. However it also gives women fewer opportunities and is more openly misogynistic. Female players who indicate their gender while playing online receive large amounts of gender-based harassment, and even when they do not they will still be forced to listen to offensive language.

In e-sports there are few women-only tournaments. Women who want to be professional gamers have to break into an almost exclusively male scene. Some famous players are openly misogynistic but continue to receive sponsorship. This presents an additional barrier for excellent female players: in order to go "pro" they may need to face a hostile team environment. This is especially challenging as in e-sports many teams live together and spend almost all their time practising together.Given current stereotypes, women on mixed gender teams for cooperative games are likely to have their play disproportionately blamed for losses. This makes all female teams seem like a good alternative, but on the few occasions when all female teams have been given significant publicity the reaction from a vocal part of the community has been strongly negative.

When an attractive female player or an all female team gains publicity there are often claims that they were picked for their looks rather than talent. Even if this is the case, it is the male dominated community that is the cause, but it is invariably the female players who are blamed as 'attention seekers'. When the first female Starcraft II player, Kim "Eve" Shee-Yoon, was recruited, instead of celebration there was a huge controversy over her being chosen, as she did not play to the standard of some amateur male players. This was despite it being common for teams to choose players based on their potential rather than existing skill. There seems to be an attitude of jealously whenever women are given the opportunity to turn professional, even if there is no reason to believe they took a place that would have otherwise have gone to a man.

If the e-sports community is to become friendly to women and girls, there is a huge amount to be done. However, when it appears that so many support and contribute to a toxic culture, it is hard to see how it can be tackled. Even if these views are held by a minority, they still have the same effect of making the community an unwelcoming place.It would be a start to have more female tournaments and professional female teams, so women could be selected based on tournament success and have opportunities to develop before moving to open tournaments.