Susie Kim believes that women video gamers are out there. As manager of a winning esports team, she would know.
But she is also not surprised none of them are on her team.
The Entertainment Software Association reported this year that 45 percent of all gamers in the United States are female. Yet, women make up a much smaller percentage of professional esports players.
The industry has struggled to gain women players in recent years. In 2014, there were reports of harassment and other abusive behavior. The scandal, known as “Gamergate,” involved male gamers targeting women players throughout the industry.
Women gamers say they feel excluded and often get insulting, sexist comments about their abilities or physical appearances.
Kim’s team, London Spitfire, won the first Overwatch League championship in June. Speaking to The Associated Press before the grand finals, she said there are definitely women who are skilled enough to be playing in the Overwatch League.
“But they’re just like, ‘It’s a headache. I don’t want to be part of this at all,’” Kim said. “I don’t blame them.”
At the top
Maria “Remilia” Creveling is the only woman - and only transgender woman - to have competed in the LoL Championship Series (LCS). It is the top series for the world’s most popular esport. Her time in the LCS was short-lived, however.
Creveling’s 2016 appearance got her a lot of attention. Many celebrated her. However, others commented about her sex, wrote critically about her appearance and questioned her abilities.
A few weeks into the season, Creveling removed herself from her team. She said she did so because of mental health issues. She has not returned to the LCS since.
Creveling did not speak at length with reporters at the Associated Press, but did tell them she has begun competing again and will be looking for a new team soon.
Other major esports have similarly limited histories of women at the highest levels. The NBA 2K League said it had one woman among 250 finalists for roster spots in its first season. That woman, however, did not receive one of the 102 available positions.
The Overwatch League had one woman for its first season, Kim “Geguri” Se-Yeon with the Shanghai Dragons. Se-Yeon has mostly avoided special attention and fame. She says she simply wants to be seen as a skilled gamer.
“Being the icon or being looked up to because I’m female — I’m grateful,” Se-Yeon said through a translator at a press meeting last year. “But I don’t really have any thoughts about it. That’s not how I want to be known.”
At the lower levels
Twelve-year-old Ella Lasky has professional gaming hopes for herself. She is on a promising path. She is one of the top players in the “Minecraft” City Champs circuit. Ella’s parents say video games have played a key role in their daughter’s social development.
“It’s given her a sense of pride,” said Ella’s mother, Johanna.
Ella even appeared on a TV show about the league. That introduced her to a different side of esports. Internet commenters did not seem to like that a woman took center stage on a video game broadcast.
″‘Why is the girl so loud? Why is the girl shouting? The girl needs to shut up. She’s annoying me with her voice,’” Johanna recalled reading. “I explained to her, ‘I think part of it is that because you’re a girl, you’re being targeted.’”
Ella was not affected much, however, and plans to keep gaming. But she already understands that many in the esports community make assumptions about her based on her sex.
“I don’t think girl gamers get as much respect as boy gamers,” Ella said.
What can be done?
Publishers have made progress answering harassment complaints since the Gamergate scandal. But video games are still not a space known for gender equality.
Some say more in-person gaming events might help. Women say men and boys usually act nicer to them in person than during online play.
Another issue at the professional level is the housing situations for elite teams. Esports competitors are often put in team housing. But sharing a living space with a group of college-aged men is not appealing to many women.
These issues, along with pressure from increased media attention, can take away from a woman’s experience at the highest levels of esports.
Kim says, ”(Women) don’t want to deal with the toxicity. They don’t want to deal with the media going crazy over them. They don’t want to deal with living with the boys or getting preferential treatment. They don’t want to deal with all of that. They just kind of want to play.”
I’m Mario Ritter. And I'm Alice Bryant.
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
scandal - n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong
championship - n. an important competition that decides which player or team is the best in a particular sport, game, etc.
headache - n. an ache or pain in the head
roster - n. a list of the people or things that belong to a particular group, team, etc.
transgender - adj.of or relating to people who feel that their true nature does not match their sex at birth
center stage - n. a main or very important position
elite - adj. related to the most successful or powerful group of people
toxicity - n. the state of being poisonous or the degree to which something (such as a drug) is poisonous
preferential - adj. giving an advantage to a particular person or group