It’s no secret that the scene of professional gamers is dominated by men so far, with horror stories like Vaevictis Esports’ 0-28 streak in the LCL serving as a warning to most of the money people when it comes to promoting female esports players. However, there are still trailblazers out there with inspiring stories that will undoubtedly change how the games are played going forward.
Women and the Esports Industry
With over 47 percent of the global games industry comprised of women, with representation across a wide range beyond just the typical stereotype of mobile and casual games, you would think esports would also feature a diverse range of contestants across the many titles in the scene.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case just yet. Research suggests the gender issues in esports are so wide-ranging that females only make up 5% of the scene despite interest from a large part of the female gamer audience.
The eSports industry’s growth is also reflected in the increase in alternative money-making avenues and a wider range of opportunities. The competition has now matured enough to support the presence of dedicated coaching staff and even sports psychologists, with organizations like the CSPPA, the first player association in the scene, also emerging as the scene begins to resemble the world of traditional sports more and more as time goes on.
Opportunities to find a niche as an entertainer either on YouTube or Twitch (or even some other mediums) have also enhanced possibilities and increased entry avenues in the space for those looking to get a foothold in the world of esports. You could also cite the growth of other ancillary fields like esports betting, with sites like Safest Betting Sites featuring pros reviewing the best online sportsbooks for esports.
Indeed, there’s a clear financial incentive for actors in the scene to get their act together and make women gamers feel more represented: research suggests they are indeed quite willing to financially support the scene, with merchandise and branded premiums at live events specifically highlighted in surveys. It’s a sign of how far behind the curve we are that most teams and leagues don’t offer such goodies in women’s cuts or sizes.
This isn’t just the question of fandom: why are there so few female pro gamers? Though there are certain physical and physiological components of playing games on a high level (reflexes, accuracy, and the like), there’s little to suggest women can’t compete at the highest levels.
And yet, there are very few of them in the scene at the moment, and “girl esports teams” like Vaevictis Esports’ doomed stint in the LCL, picking up an all-female League of Legends team which went 0-28, including an infamous 52-2 loss to Vega Squadron, eventually being kicked from the league’s 2020 season by Riot Games.
Similarly to the world of chess, while there may be separate events and rankings for male and female competitors (with notable exceptions like the Polgár sisters), many feel it’s essential to generate role models in competitive gaming too – hence the presence of women’s esports leagues and other such endeavors.
That said, there are already quite a few female gamers who have proven that they can hang with the best of the best in certain titles – we’ve put together a shortlist for you below (stats courtesy of esportsearnings.com).
Best 5 Female Esports Players
Though no doubt any top list is subjective, as there is no definitive answer to the question “who is the best female gamer?” there are quite a few individuals who stand out thanks to their accolades, results, overall winnings, and industry work.
Even if there are good arguments to be made about a different order on the list or who is the best female gamer out of all, there is no doubt each of the names below deserves to be a part of the conversation:
Scarlett (Sasha Hostyn)
The only woman to win a major Starcraft 2 tournament (IEM Pyeongchang 2018), Scarlett is the woman with the all-time highest tournament winnings to date with almost $400 000 of lifetime winnings, starting as far back as 2011 and not stopping since stacking up strong results every single year since.
The 27-year-old is mainly known for her Zerg play. Currently teamless, she is still putting up impressive performances, winning DH SC2 Masters 2020 Fall: North America in September 2020. The Queen of Psi Blades shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Liooon (Li Xiaomeng)
Esports has a female ex-world champion courtesy of Liooon’s exploits in Hearthstone, the winner of the 2019 Hearthstone Global Finals off the back of a grueling qualification process China, which many experts considered more challenging than the small circuit of Grandmasters competition in the other regions.
She has crowned the winner in November at BlizzCon and took the opportunity to highlight the issues of sexism and gender equality in the scene, hoping to encourage others by her example, saying, “this is the best way to strike back at those people who doubted me only because I am a girl. It proves that girls can be strong pro players, just as guys do.”
Hafu (Rumay Wang)
If there’s anyone who can single-handedly put rest to the discussion about whether female players are good enough to compete at a high level, Hafu’s the one. She’s been a high-level player across a wide variety of titles over the years, ranging from World of Warcraft, Bloodline Champions, and League of Legends to Hearthstone and Teamfight Tactics.
She ranks fourth on the all-time female player earnings list while also maintaining a juggernaut of a Twitch stream with over 1.1 million followers at the time of writing. Her competitive streak even shines through in games like Among Us.
Mystik (Katherine Gunn)
The holder of the Guinness Book of World Records entry for the highest-earning competitive female esports figure until Scarlett came along. Mystik is still considered one of the best Halo: Reach players of all time. She also had a successful career in Dead or Alive 4 and was influential enough in the series’ development that she earned credits in the fifth entry of the series. “Katt” is also involved with cosplaying and co-founded the LT3 esport-slash-cosplay team. Much like Hafu, she is also active on Twitch, broadcasting regularly to her many fans.
She was a part of the ill-fated Championship Gaming Series (CGS) project and a contestant on SyFy’s WCG Ultimate Gamer reality show, the latter of which netted her $100 000 for the victory. Even though she only competed in a few tournaments during her professional career, she remains third on the list of all-time highest female prize pool winners in esports – over three years after losing the top spot to the Scarlett mentioned above.
missharvey (Stephanie Harvey)
The 34-year-old former CS:GO player played Counter-Strike between 2005 and 2019, a real trailblazer with over $40 000 earned in winnings – which may not seem like a lot compared to today’s eye-popping prize pools, but once you consider that most of it came from the lean years of the early noughties, it shines a very different light on these achievements.
She was part of the CLG Red side, the first all-female team to move into a dedicated gaming house and begin competing at mens’ events.
She now works as Counter Logic Gaming’s director of esports after a stint as a designer at Ubisoft Montreal. She remains dedicated to the cause of equal representation in esports, with various projects like the Missclicks collaborative Twitch channel and her own clothing brand of ÉLEVEY.
She also appeared on the BBC 100 Women 2016 list and won season three of Canada’s Smartest Person in December 2016.
The growth of the esports industry has been nothing short of spectacular over the last few years. However, it is clear that much work still needs to be done for the competitive scene to being representative of the general video game player base.
Most women esports fans and gamers reported positive interactions even if they feel their representation is sorely lacking in the scene at this time. Some of the biggest platforms like Twitch taking aggressive steps to police the kind of phrases used on their broadcasts remains a double-edged sword in the eyes of many.
Though it is great to see large actors in the space working to ensure that female gamers feel welcome in the space, a happy medium needs to be found by focusing on the right issues when it comes to the competitive space for long-term equality rather than the easy path of token gestures.
Still, there are positive signs and a sea change in attitudes, and with more and more high-profile individual success stories of female gamers scattered across space, it’s clear that any perceived gender issues in esports can be solved, even if it may still take some time for us to get there.