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Supporting Counter-Strike’s Professional Women

Pop Flash

Featured post Courtesy of Aurélie Bellacicco Photographie

In Pop Flash, a series of insights into Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site], Emily Richardson looks past the amazing clutches and crushing defeats to understand the culture and meta of Valve’s everlasting competitive FPS.

In comparison to some other games, Counter-Strike is doing pretty well with regard to its female pro scene. The situation is far from perfect – there are still issues both at the professional and amateur levels, and we definitely want more women competing, but there are some extremely talented women playing CSGO professionally. So I’m interested to learn more about what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and how can we encourage more women to get into eSports.

Header image courtesy of Aurélie Bellacicco Photographie.

For me, watching the women’s games at events like the Electronic Sports World Cup is inspiring and every bit as exciting as the male-dominated matches. Every round is tense and ripe with amazing plays. The only thing better is watching mixed-gender teams play, and I’m pretty sure I speak for a lot of women when I say that my ultimate hope for CSGO – and other eSports – is to see a huge variety of mixed teams playing at every level of competition, from the highest tiers to the lowest amateur leagues. There’s just no reason why it can’t be that way.

After all, if we get more women playing competitively, we’re probably gonna get more women watching, more versatile and exciting games, and more sponsors. Having a more diverse range of people playing will, hopefully, lead to eSports becoming more mainstream and more financially enticing to bigger broadcasting companies. Hence more money for players, teams, events, organisers and probably more job opportunities within the eSports industry as a result.

The women competing in CSGO are distributed across most levels of competition – amateur, semi-professional and professional – but we’ve yet to see a woman win Dreamhack Winter or ESL One. Why?

Heather “SapphiRe” Garozzo thinks that it’s a numbers game. “Let’s say there are ten times as many male players as there are female” she says, “and only 1% of those males are skilled enough to play professionally. For females, one percent of a much smaller population means a much smaller group of top skilled females.”

Courtesy of HLTV.org
Courtesy of HLTV.org

Heather is a professional CSGO player currently on Team Karma. She’s thirty, lives in Los Angeles and still plays with the same ferocity and determination that she did when she first started playing competitively fifteen years ago. She says, “I truly believe there are a handful of females that could compete on a lower tiered professional team, but this is where misogyny may come into play. I think it’s going to be a while until there is a tier 2 or tier 3 professional team that tries out a female.”

For a lot of women, getting recognised for their abilities can be hard, even when they’re competing and scrimming regularly to great success. CSGO’s best women’s teams are doing pretty damn well considering the vast difference in overall player numbers, with CLG Red sitting at 35th in the GosuGamers rankings (around the same level as teams like LGB eSports, Copenhagen Wolves, and PENTA Sports), but as Heather says, we’ve yet to see a woman join a top tier team in spite of their apparent ability.

I wonder if this is down to a lack of exposure, to some extent. Twitch and other streaming services have been great for the female CSGO scene, in terms of bringing them an audience they didn’t really have before. However, the majority still aren’t being streamed and it’s not always easy to find those that are. I suppose this is in part due to cost and resources. Every stream needs a commentator and technical support, and the viewership hasn’t been proven to be there yet. That’s the dilemma, though – if streams aren’t available or easy to find, how can a viewership assert itself?

Kristen, a full-time Twitch streamer going by the name “KittyPlays”, has played CSGO for a long time – it’s a regular part of her channel. She’s not a pro, but she’s actively doing her best to bring more exposure to other women playing the game and she’s trying to nurture a positive community around it.

“It’s not obvious to me how to know when or where to find women’s professional competitions on Twitch,” she tells me when I ask her about streaming and the exposure issue. “They often compete in tournaments which are part of the same tournament where men are competing, and the primary Twitch channels for those events or leagues tend to be showing [that part of the] competition, since there is a much larger audience for that.

“If there were a website or a section on Twitch that people know to check for upcoming women’s events, to see a broadcast schedule, and to see which women’s matches are currently live and on which channels, I think that could make it much easier for people to find women’s matches.”

When I ask CLG Red superstar Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey, she says, “I believe the women that actually compete are more focused on playing than promoting their games, and that we need other people to care for them and broadcast them. Unfortunately, there is little-to-no support for female teams and some might say it’s because they need to be better to get that support. I can understand their point, but it goes back to promoting women in the scene to bring more women in.”

Courtesy of Aurélie Bellacicco Photographie
Courtesy of Aurélie Bellacicco Photographie

I believe this is true. Lots of people seem to misunderstand the promotion of women in eSports as women trying to brute-force their way into top tier teams without having the talent or credentials to be there, but that’s not the case. Promoting female players and giving them a stage shows other women that competitive CSGO is a viable career if they’re willing to do the legwork. And some of those women will be able to make it to the top. This gives us an exciting and ever- fluctuating roster of talented, committed pro players to create even better tournaments. And surely that’s what everyone wants, right?

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