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Supporting Counter-Strike’s Professional Women

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Featured post Courtesy of Aurélie Bellacicco Photographie

Courtesy of Aurélie Bellacicco Photographie

So I ask Heather and Stephanie what their thoughts on women’s-only events are. After all, these are the events that actively help promote female competitors.

“I think that, as long as there’s disparity in the amount of women competitors in eSports versus the men, women’s events are a really good thing,” Stephanie explains. “People tend to forget that there are very few gender segregated events throughout the year. My team and I actually only participate, on average, in a maximum of three yearly. Three events out of dozens we do, and that’s without counting the online leagues we play in almost every night, that are 100% mixed-gender. These female-only events are there for a reason: to provide women with role models they can relate to and identify with. And that’s something men can’t understand because they have role models already, so they can’t relate to our issues.

“I’ve always been a fierce competitor but it wasn’t until I saw Alice Lew, an American ex-pro player, compete at the Female World Cup in 2004 that I got inspired. She inspired me to achieve what she had done and I followed in her footsteps. Today, I believe a lot of women in eSports or in the industry followed mine, and what I can do is battle for these events to stay around until there are more women competing so that they become irrelevant.”

Heather agrees, for the most part: “In moderation, I think women-only events are a good thing. They promote a positive environment for females to compete in and give more amateur women a short-term goal [and] something to aim towards. Events like ESWC and Copenhagen Games give the top women’s teams the opportunity to share the same stage as their male counter-parts. In turn, women considering making the move to competitive play often look up to these female teams, and it pushes them to improve their skills while competing in an environment that may be slightly less intimidating.

“That being said,” she continues, “I stated ‘in moderation’ because I strongly feel it shouldn’t be the only type of event women compete in. The majority of female teams that compete at the highest female level also test themselves in male-dominated events. My various female teams have played against teams like NiP and Na’Vi on LAN, we’ve entered into the ESL One qualifiers, and constantly play and practice against males in almost 100% of our online matches. I think women-only events are a great stepping stone to showcasing the scene for other women, but shouldn’t be the only thing a female gamer aims for.”

This is something I think a lot of professional CSGO players probably agree with. Exclusively playing women-only tournaments for your whole career would surely be stagnating and counter- intuitive. There’s no clear reason why women can’t compete with and against men.

However, women-only events do give competitors an opportunity to showcase their talents to other teams and inspire young amateur players to consider a career in Counter-Strike. This is important, because women do face bigger barriers than men when entering the scene. Women’s tournaments regularly bring in dedicated, supportive fans, sponsors and talent-spotters looking for players, plus some money for those who prove themselves. It’s a positive experience for everyone involved and I honestly don’t think it takes anything away from the larger, mixed-gender tournaments. In fact, this is something I think the Counter-Strike community does really well and should be pretty proud of. Our women’s tournaments are getting bigger and better every year, and I think that’s a good sign. Further down the line, it’s going to improve the competitive scene as a whole.

Maybe we shouldn’t think of women’s tournaments as sitting opposite the major mixed- gender tournaments, but as community-building events. “There are other events that are restricted to corporate- or college-only players, but we don’t make a big deal of out it,” says Stephanie. “The goal stays the same: to promote eSports within a community.”

I think this is a fair point. Like competitions for college kids or under 21s, these events encourage and develop the sport within a certain group without ever detracting from the major competitions.

Courtesy of ESWC
Courtesy of ESWC

If other eSports took after CSGO in this regard, and did as well, I think there would be a big impact on the perception of eSports as a whole, making the scene a more welcoming place for everyone. More diversity means more tolerance, and I think that things would get better for men as well as women and other minorities. It’s something we should work on.

At the moment, though, there are still some obvious problems. “While it doesn’t happen often,” says Heather, “there have been times I’ve been played a mixed tournament on LAN and opponents will call my teammates or me names like “bitch”, among other words I’d not repeat. “Kill that bitch.” “Sit down bitch!” Almost every time, the harasser will come up to us after a match and say “good game” and act like nothing happened.”

It’s frustrating. I don’t think many men realise that using a slur that’s explicitly derogatory toward women is really disheartening. Tell me I’m bad with any other words you want, but bring my gender into it and I just sigh. It’s totally irrelevant and it reduces me to my sex, instead of my skill or personality. “It certainly paints a negative light for other females watching and debating whether or not to compete in the next event,” Heather says.

“I will note, however, that on LAN, a majority of opponents both male and female are incredibly supportive. Famed male teams like Cloud9, Team Liquid and CLG were recently cheering on my team both in person and on Twitter. Many of the professional teams are well aware that the female teams put in just as many hours as they do and respect us for the work we do.

“Online is a much different story in regards to sexual harassment. Generally the professional teams are incredibly supportive but amateur male teams or players can be incredibly abusive, so it’s no wonder why some females feel safer playing in women-only events.”

Stephanie concurs with this perception. “There’s this whole internet world where anonymity is everywhere and it allows people to have little-to-no thought behind their actions. This can quickly provide a toxic environment for a minority to be in, which causes women in eSports to often be victims of their passion. That might have been the hardest part for me. Being a woman brought a lot of attention to me in gaming and a lot of it wasn’t in a good way. I had to learn to love myself for who I am, ignore the negativity, focus on my goals and desires, weigh everything to make sure it was worth it, etc. I still struggle today to be a complete shield against it all but I keep working towards my serenity.”

I ask if it ever feels like these trolls outweigh the good-natured, supportive fans who really care about the game. “I’m actually not sure if they outweigh the fans, but I do know they are the most vocal ones and the ones that affect you the longest. It does bother me, but I unfortunately got used to it over time. I believe no one should get used to insults and harassment, but I think I had to so I could be where I am today. Thing is, sometimes I still stand up and denounce these trolls, but I pick my fights. I’m never gonna be okay with it but I can make statements when it will make the most impact to our community.”

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