It's no secret that the gaming demographic is comprised of mostly young men and even more so within esports. Join the team chats in any game, and one will most likely find themselves talking to a male. Look at the crowds of any gaming convention and women will be few and far between.
Although women have always been part of the gaming community, they have traditionally been a minority, but as the times change, the percentage of women playing games has begun fluctuating as more people step up to challenge the social norms. However, the attitude society has towards women in gaming are persistently negative although not readily apparent at face value.
On October 21st, Twitch streamer nweatherservice posted a video displaying the daily dose of toxicity she experiences as a female Overwatch player. Throughout her collection of videos, she is called a variety of sexist slurs, told that her shotcalling decisions are invalid solely due to her being female, and is frequently the victim of harassment by several of her teammates beyond what is acceptable even for the internet's standards. Her experience has resonated with many women in the gaming community and shows that although Overwatch has a 16 percent female player base, nearly twice the amount of all other first-person shooters, it isn't immune from the same toxic attitudes toward women that so often plague games for various reasons.
As esports moves forward into a more franchised model and finds itself increasingly in the public eye, it's important to remember the female players that have broken down barriers put in place by society and made successful careers out of Overwatch despite the odds.
Here are three female pros that are changing the face of professional Overwatch and the perception of esports as a whole.
Kim "Geguri" Se-Yeon
At 17 years old, Geguri has an impressive record. She is one of the highest ranked Zarya players in the world, with a nearly 80 percent win rate over 400 games. Earlier this summer, she was picked up by ROX Orcas to become the first female player to compete in OGN's prestigious Overwatch APEX tournament.
In June 2016, Geguri participated in the Nexus Cup Qualifier where she performed so well that other players at the time had accused her of cheating by using aim-assist software to give her an unfair advantage. Her incredible accuracy as Zarya made players such as Dizziness, ELTA and Strobe, so suspicious that they even promised to quit if she was found innocent as her victory had cost them a sponsorship deal. Strobe had even threatened to "visit Geguri's house with a knife" which sent the controversy out of hand and subsequently resulted in Geguri's name spreading far and wide.
Geguri livestreamed in a monitored setting displaying her mouse-hand to prove that the allegations were false. The international community marveled at how well she performed, and all rumors were set to rest. ELTA and Strobe not only apologized for their comments but retired from Overwatch altogether. Geguri became an international sensation overnight and was for a brief moment in time known as the "World's Best Zarya." She opened up about this experience in an interview with Inven.
Within Korea and internationally many considered the accusations against Geguri to be sexist in nature. She, along with Overwatch character D.Va, became a poster-child for Korean feminism. "The National D.Va association," which became famous after appearing in the International Women's March in South Korea, was vocal about Geguri's situation being tied to her age and gender. In an interview with Polygon, D.Va Association member Nine voiced her concern, “[She] was accused of using hacks just because ‘it was impossible for women to play games that well,’ which was, of course, false,” Nine explained. “So we decided to act for feminism under her emblem so that in 2060, someone like D.Va could actually appear.”
Geguri herself, however, disagreed with these sentiments. She maintains that she was only accused due to her impressive skills and that sexism played no part. According to Geguri, Dizziness didn't even know her gender when they accused her of cheating. She tweeted out to her followers, "...I wasn’t suspected of cheating because I was a female, or because I was a female high school student. Many people tend to bring what happened up differently from what had actually happened, and although it is painful to have it continued to be brought up, it’s even more painful to have it be talked about incorrectly..."
Whether or not Geguri's controversy arose from sexism or otherwise, there's no doubt that she is a player of incredible skill. She most recently played for the ROX Orcas before disbandment.
Jang "AKaros" Ji-su
AKaros played alongside Geguri during their time with UW Artisan and later on as a member of EHOME's Spear team before its disbanding earlier this summer. She is credited with introducing Geguri to professional Overwatch during the early days of the game when the player base was struggling to learn his mechanics and find a place for the cyborg ninja in the meta. In interviews with Korean press, Geguri frequently cites AKaros as her source of strength during the onset of her career and a pillar of support during the cheating controversy.
AKaros is known as one of the best Genji players in South Korea with her skill earning the nickname "Genjisu", a portmanteau of her name, Jang Jisu, and Genji. She is also very capable with other characters such as McCree and Reinhardt. She currently ranks in the top 98th percentile of all Genji and McCree players.
AKaros started playing games at the age of 12 with World of Warcraft, and admits it was quite an obsession for her. In fact, at one point she was ranked #1 in raid kills for all of South Korea. After she found Overwatch she went on to join UW Artisan, which was eventually acquired by EHOME, an asian esports giant.
Much like Geguri, AKaros is often mentioned when the conversation turns to females in gaming. Her personal experience with sexism has been complicated. Although she initially told Inven, "No knows I'm a girl, and even if I tell them they don't believe me...I haven't experienced prejudice or discrimination for being a female," she later admitted to Kill Screen that, "Whenever someone hears a female voice, they start trolling. Sometimes, it’s bad enough that it affects how I play."
While AKaros hasn't made any moves to become the feminist icon many would like her and Geguri to be, she did visit the "All for Ladies" tournament that was held in South Korea in October. Ninety-six women in total participated, a number that surprised even the organizers.
Ye "177" Qianqian
177 is a 19-year-old Support player from China. She garnered fame by becoming the only female starter in the 2017 Overwatch Premier Series as a member of Lucky Future as the team's primary Mercy player.
177's appearance in the competitive scene caused quite a stir among Chinese Overwatch fans as she broke the convention of what many perceived to be a pro player. Throughout the stream, one could hear wild cheering whenever the camera focused on her. According to users on Tumblr, some women in the crowd even held up signs professing love for her such as, "Marry me 177," and "I'd go gay for 177."
Not much is known about 177 herself as she is relatively new to the pro gaming scene. One thing's for sure; she is definitely one player to keep an eye on.
All three of these women are examples of why the representation of female gamers is crucial. Ideally, as more female pros come to the forefront and prove themselves equal to their male counterparts, videos showing gender-related abuse like the one posted by nweatherservice will become rarer. Overwatch already has the highest number of female players of any FPS, but it has a long way to go in terms of the community's treatment and perception towards women in gaming.
Even if female pros like Geguri don't want to become a symbol or be part of any kind of social movement, they still give hope to a generation of young female gamers that they too can be recognized and respected.
Image credit: EHOME, INVEN