Needless to say, the past few weeks have been tumultuous regarding female involvement in esports, whether it be on the fan, team, or administrative side. Four writers discuss the importance of women in the gaming community, the impact being female has had on their individual experiences in this industry, and share their personal stories and beliefs.
Women Built Your Communities – Liz “mizliz” Richardson
In esports, some topics come back around over and over again, like a perennial flower that never quite stays in the ground. There’s been a lot of talk lately about female fans in the Overwatch scene, and much of it is just as abhorrent as you’d expect.
A pro player comments in stream that mostly-female audiences are “embarrassing” – and many people agree, even after an apology. Claims that this community isn’t for women: they don’t make up the core audience, the real fans. Even old, misguided comments that women are too genetically inferior to be professional players. Each opens a deep wound in women that play these games, love this community, and eventually question if they belong.
I have a message to those who think women don’t belong in Overwatch esports. There is a dirty secret you’re missing, blinded by your misogyny: women built your communities.
Fans of all genders in the Overwatch community hang out in Discord servers, updated versions of message boards with emotes, channels, and endless conversation potential. Each server likely has moderators who watch over them, always ready to keep the peace or improve the experience. Do you know who runs most of these servers? It’s women.
Women are the moderators scrolling through pages of conversation to delete a racist message. We are the ones creating your channels, uploading your clips, and mediating your fights, even when we have no patience left for any of it. We are the ones staying up late at night to talk to a member who is having a rough time. We are the ones sacrificing our time for the greater good: a better community for everyone.
Women are also Twitch moderators for the bulk of pro players you follow, idolize, and pretend will back you up on your bad opinions. We are the ones taking hours out of our day to watch an endlessly scrolling string of words. We are the ones who delete horrendous messages faster than people can read them; we experience them so you don’t have to. We are called “egirls” or “sluts” or other choice slurs, but we push on, so no one else has to hear that in our streams.
The emotes you spam in Twitch, in Discord, on Twitter, were likely lovingly handmade by a woman, crouched over a digital tablet in the dark. A woman put hours of her life into that small picture you used to punctuate a joke that girls can’t play games. Women create the artwork you retweet and use as profile pictures with no credit. Women craft the cosplays you drool over. Women are responsible for the bulk of the beauty and art of Overwatch. But we don’t belong here, right?
I’ll even speak a language everyone understands: money. The financial mountain Overwatch League is built on has been made stronger by women. All the people I know who have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on merchandise, travel to games, and supporting their favorite players have been women. We have put our money where our heart is, and yet, we’re not the core audience.
Everything, everything in Overwatch you assume belongs solely to men has been touched by a woman you think has no place here. The articles you read for updates, the data you depend on to solve arguments, the livelihood of actual Overwatch League champions: all of them exist because a women cared enough to not care what others said. She pushed on to build a community millions of people exist in every day.
Be wary about hanging a “No Girls Allowed” sign on your treehouse if you don’t remember who built it.
Unwanted – K. Y. B. (“Gatamchun”)
After a not-short amount of time in this community of Overwatch fans, which has been around since before Overwatch League, one thing I do feel strongly is a sense of protectiveness for female fans of the scene. They are not perfect, they are not flawless humans, but they are devoted, passionate, and sincere, just like any other fan. But unlike other fans, I have seen female fans denigrated and mocked as “fangirls” or “groupie-types.” Female fans, especially those in esports, are often here despite it all. They play the games despite the treatment they may receive in voice chat, they scream for their favorite players despite the complaints they may hear, they are fans despite all the baggage that words like “fangirl” hold. (And take my word for it when I say that Korean online communities have come up with some vicious names for female gamers and esports fans.)
Because of all of that, my first instinct upon hearing what Gambler had said on stream was anger – I wanted to write something sarcastic and blistering. But I felt that it would perhaps be more important and productive to instead amplify the voices of those fans who were subscribers to Gambler’s stream, fans who wanted to support him in his transition from pro to streamer. Their words could convey the sense of being a fan in a scene that, at times, reveals its latent misogyny and hostility like a protruding nail in the floor.
Below are their words, translated with permission.
“I have cheered for Gambler ever since he sang “Battery of Love” [at APEX] with Saebyeolbe. I’m a woman. Gambler, have you ever seen the audience seats when you were at APEX? Have you ever seen how many of the fans there were women? We – the people who have spent money, cheered, and yelled at every little thing – we filled those seats. But you told us, those fans who cheer at small things, the “predominantly female” community, and you told us to not make it obvious. Do you think that was something we could accept?
If you had said, “please don’t overreact so much” or “I’m grateful for your reactions but it’s a little much,” that would have been perfectly fine to hear, but now I’m filled with regret and chagrin. I really cheered for you with all my heart, but now I don’t think I can do it anymore.
All I think of is how you must have thought of us the entire time – perhaps we were nothing more than a “predominantly female” group of people [i.e. a bunch of girls]. I question what exactly we should cheer for, and I’m also nervous and afraid.”
“At first I marveled at [Gambler’s] wit, his skill on Mercy, and I grew to like him more and more, but now that something like this has happened, I’m shaken. Before, when I was a fan of idols, I stood by them steadfast for nine years no matter what happened, but now that I have heard that my presence is unwelcome, perhaps I should really just worry about myself [rather than him].
I want to know what we meant to you, Gambler. The fact that you said what you said so matter-of-factly perhaps makes it clear.
I can’t speak for others, but the reason I typed “naisu” or weeping emoticons was because I was concerned that you might feel sad if the chat was too quiet, but now that you’ve said that those efforts are actually not wanted, there’s just a bitter taste in my mouth. Of course, you didn’t tell us to type in the chat, but now that I know that something I did to try and make you feel better was actually unwanted, it feels like my presence as a fan itself is unnecessary. And I question what it was I was trying to do… It’s a good thing, now that I know how you really feel.
It seems as though my efforts or my presence aren’t really welcome, so I’ll stop now. I had fun watching your streams, and I was glad to have learned about someone like you. The end may not have been good, but the memories were.”
Of course, a streamer has every right to make requests of their audience, set up certain community rules or guidelines. But that isn’t really what people were upset about. The sting comes from the characterization of certain behaviors as distinctly “female” or “feminine,” and the apparent rejection of that femininity.
The relationship between streamers and fans – especially when it’s streamers with smaller audiences – could benefit from everyone approaching the relationship as they would a real life connection. Mutual respect and courtesy are worth keeping in mind here; even if a relationship is almost completely online, mediated by Twitch, it’s still a kind of human connection. It’s difficult to enjoy a stream when you’ve glimpsed contempt behind the curtain, just as you would find it difficult to stay friends with someone you know doesn’t like you. And at the end of the day, all that any fan is looking for is to enjoy the stream of a player they like.
Disappointed, But Not Surprised – Rainee “JeziBelle” Scott
I wish I could say “second verse, same as the first.” But it’s at least the third or fourth by now.
At sixteen, I could spend ten minutes explaining how Jive Records’ grooming of Justin Timberlake for solo stardom affected the vocal production of NSYNC’s albums over time, how much stronger their harmonies were in the deep cuts of their first album than their last, and immediately be asked which one I thought was cutest. Three years later, a detailed explanation of Clay Aiken’s background in special ed and his extensive work with autism charities was completely ignored in favor of mocking me for liking such a goofy-looking dude.
Over a decade after that, Jake Lyon, God bless him, goes to the mat on live TV to vouch for the diversity of passionate esports fans. “Oh, I bet you bring in plenty of female fans,” Megyn Kelly coos, and you can see a little of the light leave his eyes.
When you’re a girl, and you like something – especially if it’s a thing mostly liked by girls – it must be superficial, it must be silly, it must be meaningless, because that’s how girl things work. That’s how girls work. From pop music to pumpkin spice lattes, that’s who we decided you are, long before you got a say in it.
And God help you if you actually do find a guy attractive on top of admiring his skills. The moment you admit that you’ve enjoyed looking at an OWL player’s face once or twice, everything you know about the game is completely discounted. You are, wholesale, an idiot egirl who’s just here for eye candy. You don’t even have to explicitly say it! All you have to do is act too ‘girly’ about it – be too emotionally invested, too enthusiastic in the wrong way, and you get shoved into the irrelevant girl corner with the rest.
Every time I try to explain this phenomenon to men, I get scoffed at. But when I point it out to women, their eyes go wide as they realize just how many times it’s happened to them. For a woman to aspire to masculinity is seen as her improving herself, exercising her right to be taken seriously. But for a man to aspire to femininity or embrace ‘girly’ things is still seen as bizarre. Why would anyone want to be like a girl?
Roughly half of the population, of course, doesn’t have a choice. It’s what leads so many young women to desperately distance themselves from the feminine, to be “not like other girls”. We end up throwing each other under the bus to earn male approval. We abandon the things we love, because we know we’ll be mistreated for loving them.
It’s exhausting, and at this point, I can’t be upset with women who act that way out of self-defense. Who know who their favorite player is, but claim another, because they know what happens if they like the ‘cute one’. Who self-effacingly preface their praise with “I know, I know, but…” to stop the jokes before they start. Esports isn’t something you should have to subject yourself to ridicule to enjoy, and I don’t blame anyone who chooses to give ground rather than deal with it.
Me? After three decades of being a woman in America, I just can’t be bothered to care anymore. If the Houston Outlaws are the pumpkin spice latte of Overwatch League, I’ll have mine iced with almond milk and an extra shot of fuck you.
Building Each Other Up – Katrina Weil
The other night, my mother asked me why I would even want to be involved in the esports community. Not because of potential salaries, or my family’s unfamiliarity with the scene, but because almost every story I have told her has had a layer of sexism and general toxicity. The past weeks have reinforced her concern for me, and I have begun to see why so many women are discouraged from investing their time, money, and passion into this industry.
I’m familiar with being in predominantly male settings, due to my background in mathematics. I have seen and experienced implicit biases all my life. But to see a female pioneer and leader in this industry, the women I look up to, being publicly shamed by “journalists” with no credibility inspires so much anger in me and even worse, fear. Even worse was watching some of the established male figureheads, support and even challenge this woman’s position and legitimacy.
So I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have paved the way for women to find a position in the esports community, regardless of their own gender identity. One of the most transformative experiences has been all in thanks to the people at Broadcast.gg. Learning how to cast has been a difficult and rewarding challenge. But in my practice and discussions, broadcasting has allowed me to learn even more about my place in this arena. In my first vod review with the wonderful Chris “Boopasaurusrex” Lessard, I was surprised that a lot of the feedback Boop gave me could be applied to all facets of my life. We discussed speaking with intent, my fears of Twitch chat (I’m slowly getting used to sexist emotes and my voice being made fun of), and I was ultimately left with the task of reducing the amount of times I said sorry, not only while casting, but in real life as well.
I could most likely name half of the Broadcast.gg community when referring to how producers, mentors, and peers simply understood how being female impacted how audiences and even future casting partners may perceive me. Evie “HamTornado” Feng and Alex “MooshuBeef” Chan tailored feedback not only to my individual needs and areas for improvement, but were instrumental in confronting my fears of not being credible. Without these three’s guidance, patience, and awareness of the challenges women face in esports, I am unsure how much I would have improved. As fortunate as I have been in my own career to have had the support of this community, the past few weeks have reminded me how special this treatment truly is.
To women who may share my skepticism and anxiety revolving around entering this community – there are places where you will be loved, supported, and cheered for. I’ve found that in Broadcast.gg, The Game Haus, especially from my WatchHaus friends who are very dear to me, and in Rally to We! – a non-binary, LGBT, and female-friendly server on Discord. You will find your people who will talk you out of quitting, support you when you feel alone, and build you back up when it feels like there’s nothing left to fight for. I am here for you, as are the women who have contributed to this article. Do not hesitate to ask for help. Together, we are unstoppable.
Moving forward, I know that I will always have fear of backlash and bias. But if I can channel my anger and fear into determination, maybe one day, I’ll be able to better support the women who are working hard alongside me.
My mother’s concerns are sadly legitimate. But hopefully, one day, a daughter of my own will have less fear to pursue her dreams.
Thank you to all of the contributing writers for sharing their stories. All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.