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Where Them Girls At?

As various esports and their respective audiences grow, the same questions emerge about diversity and representation. People outside the esports sphere ask questions about why there are no top female players or why female teams aren’t at events. This so-called problem is not a case of sexism in esports, no matter what some would like to claim.


However, for the sake of argument when looking at CS:GO, I will echo what a David Guetta song once asked, where them girls at?


Player Numbers


Less women watch and play Counter-Strike. A 2017 study by Christina Gough suggested 75% of Counter-Strike fans/players were male. Earlier studies suggest that only 20% of CS players were female.


At events I have attended, the majority of women are there as parental chaperones or girlfriends with their boyfriends. This isn’t to say that these women are not fans themselves, but very few women attend alone or with their female friends.


The player base is also predominantly male. I could count on two hands the amount of women I have met in matchmaking over the last two years and around 600 matches.

Two stand out.


The first did not speak, but was the girlfriend of another player who had queued with her and another friend of his. Dragged into her second ever game, she ended the match with -1 kills, having sprayed wildly at an enemy but taking out her low HP teammate, and the match ended 15-15.


Another was a woman who was the opposite. Every round, the team would be given a rundown of events that a military general would approve of.


“Approaching A Site! Pushing Main! Main Clear! Engaging Enemy! One Enemy Down!”


The endless running commentary would be funny if it wasn’t so infuriating to get a barrage of unnecessary information back in the days where the options were full-volume teammate or voice_enable 0.


Even if one in four players is female, the number of male players who do not even reach Global Elite, the highest rank in CS:GO Matchmaking with only about 0.75% of the player base, let alone get a chance to play professionally, is miniscule. Female players not only have to participate in the same climb, but do so with some unique obstacles.


Professional Play


The DreamHack Valencia Showdown trophy has gifted a spot at DreamHack Open Rotterdam to Besiktas Esports. While home to Julia “juliano” Kiran and Zainab “zAAz” Turkie, the team is ranked #163 on HLTV and has only taken part in four events this year, with the Intel Challenge Katowice making up half of these as the team had to go through in the qualifier.


A variety of teams and their presence at both online and offline events

If we look at the most successful female CS:GO players, the number of events is tiny over the last seven years. Most events are the usual female tourneys - Copenhagen Games, Intel Challenge Katowice. Games against male players are often washouts, such as Fragbite Masters Season 3, where the invited Bad Monkeys Gaming roster’s only win was a forfeit before getting 2-0’d by Titan and mousesports. Even at smaller events with non-professional players and random mix teams, female-only teams struggle to make an impact.


Most Open Qualifiers are for everyone in a region. It doesn’t matter if you are a male, female or mixed team. The only exception to this rule is the female-only tournaments. NA team CLG Red is one of the few female teams to regularly participate in the qualifiers for big tournaments and leagues, but the majority of female teams do not. Some have not taken part in a Major Open Qualifier in two years or placed higher than 128th-256th.


The standard for female players and female teams can only be raised with these experiences against ‘male’ teams. While a 16-0 may be embarrassing when playing against male teams, female-only leagues are not enough to bring women to a level where a mixed team is a realistic possibility.


Recent years have seen more female players seek to branch out and climb higher. Diane “di^” Tran stood in for Muffin Lightning at the ESEA Global Challenge at the start of 2017 while Michaela “mimimicheater” Lintrup’s attempts to qualify caught the attention of the CS community later that year. This year, Kaitlyn “Katie” Boop was the first female player to qualify for FPL. These seemingly small steps are a significant development, pushing female players to achieve more than the status quo.


Beyond the Server


While the professional scene for women still has a way to go, sponsors are more than happy to feature female players in advertising and the big names have become similar to ambassadors for CS.


The rise of multiple female talent members who are now regulars at events is important. Representation may play as big of a role as female players currently playing the game as talent is more visible. The last few years has also seen the rise of Freya Spiers and Frankie Ward as interviewers and hosts. Christine “potter” Chi, formerly of CLG Red, has made the seamless move to analysis. One of the best observers in the game is Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo, who is also a former player and current VP of Marketing for Dignitas. Lauren “Pansy” Scott, despite taking on more PUBG casting, is still considered to be one of the most iconic voices with countless moments enhanced by her commentary over the years.


In CS, there is no direct barrier to entry for anyone wishing to play the game competitively. If you want to try to qualify for top events and Majors, the only limitation is usually your geographical location.


Conclusion


If the environment allows female players to earn a salary without needing to challenge top teams or have a presence at big events, the incentive to perform better is overshadowed by comfort and complacency, no matter the cost to female competition as a whole. Individuals with the desire to play better and achieve more, willing to work with mix teams or pushing their own teams beyond the handful of female tournaments will help pave the way for the future.


The issues of harassment or abuse most certainly do occur and women will often get far more targeted comments compared to their male peers. Sexism is a frequent feature on the infamous HLTV forums, exposing women with an interest in the game to vitriol even before they enter the server. While the community can seek to stamp out this behaviour, being able to perform and rise above the words of others is a key skill for anyone, male or female, seeking to compete on a professional level.


When it comes to talent, gender plays no role in the reception the community will give individuals on any given day. Auguste “Semmler” Massonnat was frequently criticised by the CS community before he decided to cast the Overwatch League instead after Blizzard made him an offer. During the FACEIT Major, Pala “Pala” Gilroy Sen was heavily criticised for his interviewing style across social media. Jacob “Pimp” Winneche also frequently sees negativity leak into his Twitch chat when he streams that often gets personal.


The reality is that being a professional, player or otherwise, in esports isn’t easy for anyone. For women, there are issues that are either not faced or faced differently by male counterparts. Being ‘liked’ or supported by the community is often as random as a coin toss, regardless of skill, ability or gender. The best of the best will often find their way to the top. Overwatch’s Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim is proof that female gamers can most certainly play in competitive shooters and similar games.


So where are them girls at? You tell me.

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