Almost half of all gamers worldwide are female. But despite the near equal ratio of male to female gamers, there are only a handful of female professional players competing at the highest levels.
The Overwatch League only has one woman, Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim of the Shanghai Dragons among its professional players. Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series only saw its first female participant in 2015 when Maria “Remilia” Creveling competed as part of Renegades. And in the Capcom Pro Tour 2019, only one woman, Leah “Gllty” Hayes is in the top 200 standings.
Unlike traditional sports where there are biological differences, there is no reason why female players cannot compete alongside males at the highest level of competitive gaming. Female players are “just as good, if not better than male players,” said Jordan Sherman, Gen.G’s head of partnerships, in an interview with Variety.
So why aren’t there more female pro players? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be the toxicity and harassment that female gamers have to deal with at every level of play.
In everyday gaming, women face high levels of toxicity. The types of harassment faced by women include sexist comments, insults, rape threats, and even death threats.
One in two women reported experiencing sexist comments while gaming. One in ten had rape threats used against them according to research by casino.org.
In May 2018, popular Twitch streamer, Annemunition, revealed the harassment she experienced playing online. While playing Rainbow Six Siege, gamers attacked her intelligence and gender across multiple matches.
The situation escalated into death threats. “I hope you die,” said one man.
Annemunition’s incident was not unique. Other women suffered from similar toxic behavior as well.
In October 2017, female twitch streamer, nweatherservice, posted a Youtube video (warning: strong language) that showed the toxicity she experienced while playing Overwatch.
Like Annemunition, nweatherservice’s teammates degraded her with insults attacking her gender. Death threats were also made by her team.
While giving suggestions in another game, she was interrupted with a sexist comment telling her to “go back to the kitchen”. This happened again when she explained she could play other heroes.
After a defeat, nweatherservice’s teammate attacked her appearance in a string of insults, blaming her for their loss. “This is the reason why girls should not do anything other than be a woman. Do not play Overwatch,” said the man.
We spoke to Singaporean streamer, ex-manager of Team Faceless, and founder of Female Dota 2, a community website for female Dota 2 players, Tammy Tang about the toxicity she has faced as a prominent female gamer.
She said that, “When I was streaming actively, I would get so many different opinions about what I should or should not wear, whether I should or should not have make up on while playing a game at home, where I should or should not place my web camera, but all those comments had very little to do with my gameplay itself.”
Tang added that “gaming is as toxic as society is. It’s an outlet for people to show the worst of themselves, a space where it’s supposedly safe for people to let off steam and be nasty. I think that this toxicity comes from everywhere and is aimed at everything.”
In esports, female professional players have had their skills questioned with many accused of cheating.
In June 2016, Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim was involved in a cheating controversy. She was accused of using an aimbot (a tool that helped players aim) by two other professional players.
The two pros, Strobe and ELTA, both accused Geguri of cheating in her match against them. Geguri’s performance during the Nexus Cup Korean qualifiers was “too good”. To her accusers, her mouse precision did not seem humanly possible.
Strobe blamed Geguri of causing “a problem” to his career with her cheating. His accusations escalated into death threats. Strobe even said that he “may visit Geguri’s house with a knife in hand”.
Geguri was only able to clear her name by agreeing to live stream herself playing Overwatch on Korean website Inven. On the same day, Blizzard Entertainment Korea also confirmed that Geguri had not been cheating.
In 2015, Hyerim “MagicAmy” Lee, a top Hearthstone player, went through a similar experience. MagicAmy was accused by a former teammate for lying about her identity.
The teammate, SPeCiaLIST, claimed that the MagicAmy account was either secretly played by a man or by multiple people. He called out MagicAmy for “exploiting” her identity to earn money and that her win at ESL was achieved “not by herself”.
On a reddit post he posted his hypothesis that the MagicAmy account was actually being played by someone other than Hyerim Lee, or even a group of people. He asserted that Magicamy will never ever stream, will never appear at an offline tournament, and if she does, will do substantially worse than she does online, and will never do things she said she would do, such as making videos.
The accusations worsened. Other Hearthstone players joined in making claims against MagicAmy.
The controversy reached a point where Tempo Storm, MagicAmy’s team, intervened. They launched their own investigation.
Based on their findings, Tempo Storm cleared MagicAmy of all suspicion. MagicAmy was “one person” and Hyerim Lee was “who she claimed to be“.
However, the damage was done. MagicAmy decided to take a leave of absence from Hearthstone, and has not streamed or played the game professionally since 2015.
Tang also commented that while there are more female pros now than there were eight years ago, “there’s still a disparity in the top tier of play, and most, if not all, teams are made up of male players. If women are involved, it’s as the team social media or content person, or as the team manager, but not as a player.”
Even at the highest level of gaming, toxicity and prejudice against women continue to persist. The highly publicized negative experience faced by the few women that have decided to go pro may deter other promising young female pros from following in their footsteps.
Video Game Industry
Even women simply involved in the video game industry have been harassed.
In 2014, the Gamergate controversy, a harassment campaign targeting several women in the videogame industry took place. Most notably, developers Zoë Quinn, and Brianna Wu, and media critic, Anita Sarkeesian, were targeted.
All three women were forced to leave their homes after receiving harassment online.
One user created a Twitter account, posted Sarkeesian’s personal information and sent death threats to Sarkeesian and her family.
The same happened to Brianna Wu. Death threats towards Wu and her husband were sent after a Twitter account was made.
The harassment worsened. Women who brought up the topic were subject to attack. Felicia Day, creator of Geek and Sundry, had her private details posted online minutes after Day posted about her fear of talking about the Gamergate controversy.
There was no part of the gaming industry where women could escape the toxic behavior targeted at them. The Gamergate controversy demonstrated this simple truth.
Joining the world of gaming meant signing up for harassment.
With an environment that constantly puts down women, it is no surprise that not many women are willing to game. Much less join esports.
The potential for harassment outweighs the benefits of being a part of professional gaming.
The saddest comment came from 12-year-old Ella Lasky, one of the top players in the Minecraft City Champs circuit. “I don’t think girl gamers get as much respect as boy gamers,” she said, in an interview with the Associated Press.
These are the beliefs held by the future generation of gamers. If more women are to be seen in esports, a change is needed.
We asked Tang if she had any advice for female gamers to deal with toxicity in games. She said, “Find a way to deal with it, but don’t let it stop you from striving for excellence.”