Women are using technology, personality and skills to shape the future of eSports.
Though all-female tournaments in eSports have proven controversial, leaders in the space continue to see its positive effects in creating a more welcoming and empowering space for women to compete.
To combat the male-dominated world of competitive gaming, female pros started building their own communities both on and offline, where they could focus on what mattered: playing.
“We don’t think there’s any difference between females and males in eSports, so we want to make that term a positive thing,” she said.
Her team is part of a larger movement that aims to encourage more women to compete in eSports, as men are still playing slightly more than women
Only 5% of pro players are women, according to Morgan Romine from the eSports diversity advocacy group AnyKey making it difficult for them to wind up in publicized co-ed competitions. Romine, an early member of the now disbanded all-girl gaming team Frag Dolls, said rather than interest or skill, women are hampered by lack of visibility and inclusivity.
“If you don’t see people like yourself competing and succeeding in these spaces, it’s really hard to aspire to do that,” said Romine during a recent GDC panel in San Francisco.
“If we want to see women competing at the top tier, we have to build a groundswell.”
All-female tournaments and initiatives to make women feel welcome enough to compete are helping turn the tide, according to Lee Machen, director of developer relations at Intel.
“If someone is interested, shows up at an event, sees nobody that looks like them and doesn’t feel welcomed by those who are there, they’re usually going to find something else to do,” Machen said.
Women-only tournaments can create supportive environments, giving pros much needed visibility and showcasing their dedication to the competition.
When asked to recall the moment they became serious about competing, many professional women gamers point to playing with other girls in esports. Wiik joined her first all-women team in 2013. She said connecting with other women players helped her see how girls could compete and win.
“That really inspired me to keep playing, to keep trying to get better and go to more tournaments,” Wiik said
“Not only do I have to play amazing, I have to care about how I look,” said Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico, an eSports personality and another former member of Frag Dolls. “I have to make sure I’m friendly but not too friendly. All these little factors weigh in and prevent me from being the best player I can be — and that’s really all that matters.”
When Wiik first began competing publicly, she experienced debilitating shyness and lack of confidence that impacted her gameplay. Then she discovered streaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) on Twitch, which helped her build a supportive following. It also minimized her performance anxiety.
By spotlighting her dedication and skill, and allowing her to play with other girls, streaming on Twitch allowed Wiik to gain control over her destiny as a professional player. It allowed her to break away from negative stereotypes and cultivate direct relationships with their fans.
“Streaming highlights the fact that there are women in eSports who take games very seriously and put a lot of time and effort into the game — which helps the female community get more support,” she said.
The expense of owning a PC powerful enough to compete challenges everyone, but increasingly top competitors win sponsorships that cover costs. But beneath this, Machen sees how social or cultural stereotypes can keep women from diving into a passion for games at an early age.
“I could certainly see parents thinking their son needs a PC but not their daughter in the same way they make choices about GI Joe versus Barbie and many other parts of their kids’ lives,” said Machen.
Before signing on with LGB in 2015, Wiik was working with an outdated desktop PC using a 2011 i7 2600k, 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 680. It couldn’t run a demanding game like CS:GO and record her gameplay simultaneously, which has become an increasingly essential feature for eSports competitors.
While today’s Intel Core i7 processors are designed to support streaming, CPUs that are even a couple of years old can be limiting for today’s gamers, said Intel’s Mark Chang.
“Once you start stacking two or more of these mega-tasks [like livestreaming on Twitch and CS:GO] on top of each other, that can really stresses out your CPU,” Chang explained.
Wiik remembers her early days of worrying that her system might crash, and how that weighed on her performance.
“It was always scary when playing in official tournaments,” she said.
After getting signed by LGB and receiving an upgraded MSI GT80 gaming notebook, Wiik and her fellow teammates were prepared to dominate at DreamHack Summer 2016. They felt ready to inspire others, showing exactly what women are capable of.