Competitive gaming, at least right now, is a male-dominated industry. Twitch, the largest video streaming platform for the industry, reports that 81.5 per cent of its viewers are male. The same is true for the players: women and men can compete in the same leagues, but most of the largest pro gaming leagues have no female players, from the LCS, to the higher echelons of CS:GO, and, until recently, the Overwatch League (OWL). On Monday 5 February, Kim ‘Geguri’ Se-yeon announced she had been acquired by a ‘foreign’ Overwatch team. I’ll speculate which team later, but for now I think it would be useful to explore the current situation a little deeper. To do so, we need context.
Right from the start, most roles in esports have been dominated by men. It’s worth noting that the industry isn’t inherently restrictive to women. Like all competitive sports, the success of any given player is essentially a meritocracy. A talented female player has only to join a team and beat other teams before she gets noticed. There have been instances of successful female players in the past: Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn is the highest-earning currently. The Canadian Starcraft II pro competes with the best, and won the Pyeongchang tournament on 6 February. There have been other, less successful examples of players working in prominent teams. Maria ‘Remelia’ Creveling was drafted for her phenomenal League of Legends play to the newly-formed Renegades roster in the game’s top American league, but left after just three weeks citing anxiety and self-esteem issues. Women in the esports industry undoubtedly receive disproportionate levels of sexist online abuse, so it’s not impossible to understand her reasoning. esports has historically not been receptive to entrances by women, but that doesn’t mean the status quo has to remain.
Today’s environment is more encouraging. Brands are recognising the value of all-female pro teams like RES Gaming. Women are becoming more common in broadcasting teams, too. Women from all parts of the industry took to Twitter over the last fortnight using #WomenBehindGames to show the diversity of roles women play in eSports, and perhaps provide inspiration to anyone wanting to get into the scene. There are now more women in front of the camera than ever before. OWL’s very own Soe Gschwind-Penski has managed to develop her own unique style of analysis, using her relationships with the teams to deliver inside information to the stream. A career in esport is much easier to visualize for future female workers when female broadcasters already exist. That said, the fact remains that there aren’t currently any female players on any of the 12 OWL Teams. That could be about to change.
After the league’s completion of its draft phase in December, Geguri was almost conspicuous by her absence. The South Korean teen was catapulted into gaming celebrity in January after her opponents accused her of hacking the game due to her strange mouse movement and incredible ability to track her opponents. She proved her innocence by filming her hands while playing: it turns out her mouse sensitivity is almost impossibly high. That in itself makes her a rarity in the professional gaming scene, where mouse sensitivity is typically lower than other players of the same game. Whilst she has not specified her acquisition by a team in OWL, we can speculate that, as the primary (and only) large league operating in America, it’s probably her destination. ESPN sources suggest she has been acquired by Shanghai dragons, along with two other South Korean players in an effort to turn the team’s woeful losing streak around.
Geguri has already stated she doesn’t want to be used as a way to ‘forward [people’s] ideologies’. I believe she been acquired not because of her gender, but because she is utterly incredible at the game. She has achieved this success through merit alone, not to give her team publicity. I cannot currently propose a solution to under-representation of women in esports, but I propose that a league that comprises a more diverse set of genders, races, and opinions is undoubtedly a positive thing.