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Gaming Without Gender

Madisyn wearing a headset
-Madisyn Benge, masters of Education Technology student

-Trisha Kangas

The Boise State Esports team has done work to break the mold of gendering gamers. Since the beginning, the team has been inclusive of women as players and production staff. This effort has not gone unnoticed. Lisa Malhas, a professional esports caster/host, specializing in League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League, was given her start at Boise State.

“Boise State Esports gave me my first real opportunity in the professional esports world. If it weren’t for the current director, Doctor Chris Haskell, and the rest of the production crew/players, I would have been absolutely lost”.

Madisyn Benge, currently studying for her Masters in Education Technology, commented on the overall inclusive atmosphere that Boise State brings to the esports table.

“If you’re on a team that has females and males, the idea of this divide existing is hard to fathom. If you play against a team that is all male, to that team, the idea of a coed team may seem odd. Same to their viewers. Whereas here at Boise State, esports is coed, it’s normal to sit alongside women and men while we play. It’s important for schools such as Boise State University to keep esports coed. In order for it to be the standard or the norm”.

When asked about her most memorable experiences as a woman in esports, Benge was more impacted by the fact that Boise State was able to come together as a team to make it to the Mountain West Championship in Las Vegas.

She remembered when she and Dr. Haskell were talking about the idea of the team, then to see it come to life in the most fortuitous way imaginable was an incredible experience for her and one which highlighted the great community feel that esports can have—not a gender divide.

“It was the team that earned our spot at the championship. Not the fact that we had girls on our team. If anything, it just demonstrated the fact that gender isn’t a determining factor of skill in the realm of esports,” Benge said.

Recognizing possibility by seeing other successful women

In my interviews with these women, I became aware of a common thread amongst all three. Each woman had a story, experience, or sentiment which pointed to the powerful impact witnessing other successful women in esports has.

Lexie Wright, GIMM (Games, Interactive Media, and Mobile) major and Production Assistant and Host, admitted to feeling scared upon being given her first on camera opportunity. Dr. Haskell called her to action, but she was relieved to have support from other female members of the team.

“I walked in that evening expecting to do some replay, and he said “Lexie, you’re up!” I was excited, but extremely nervous. Thankfully, Lisa (Jolly) was sitting next to me on the desk and definitely helped me feel more comfortable. I think it might have been a more stressful experience had Lisa not been on the desk with me. Having a confident woman to look up to helped ease the stress of being a female face within esports.”

Likewise, Malhas had two enlightening experiences being surrounded by strong women and non-binary folks. It was particularly empowering for her to stand beside accomplished women who have paved the way for women in esports.

“Getting to cast the Mountain West Esports Conference with Gabriella “LeTigress” Devia-Allen (now an interviewer for the League Championship Series) was certainly something I will never forget. My recent broadcast for the Super Girl Gamer Pro Championship with another big name in esports, Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico, was also an inspiring experience for me and one I will cherish”.

Not only is it inspirational for adult, college level esports enthusiasts, but one can see the true impact that female esports figures can have on gamers of all ages. Young girls who grow up with icons they can relate to speaks volumes about how important it is to have a diverse gaming community.

“I’ve personally spoken to a lot of female high school students who have presented their interest in esports, and have been told seeing me play was inspirational to them. It honestly warmed my heart, and I almost cried hearing that. As I honed my skills, competed in tournaments both online and offline, I gained more confidence. I stuck to my idea of letting my actions speak louder than words. If someone would mention I was a girl I’d simply say “Yeah and?” then proceed to pop off in a match. Back then, I had no female gamers to look up to. Granted, I look up to members of the FaZe clan, but this was when gaming was a male dominated realm. Now, I get to be one of those gamers that other girls can look up to,” said Benge.

With all of that being said, it probably comes as no surprise that women have grown tired of the conversation about simply being a woman in esports, which raises a dilemma. As tired and old of a trope as it is, Benge can also see it as a necessary evil in order to break down barriers which still exist within gaming.

“For myself, and my female teammates it’s become an old topic because to us it’s not an issue. We have coed teams here and always have. But, I understand that this isn’t the standard yet for esports. So, until the day comes that people don’t do a double take after seeing a girl up on the gaming stage I will actively speak up about the importance of inclusion in esports”.

What is true equality in esports?

Lexie wearing a headset and glasses
-Lexie Wright, senior GIMM major and Production Assistant/Host

A lingering idea within the gender dynamics of gaming is this feeling that women must be all or nothing. Some women feel that they work themselves into the ground trying to prove that they are a great gamer; that they have to rival the best in order to be taken seriously. However, true equality lies in a range of expertise in players.

“I think it’s important to start normalizing all ranges of talent within women gamers. Personally, I feel like we have to prove ourselves to be taken seriously, and that’s just annoying. You don’t want me to play in your ranked match? Totally fair. But should I have to wait until I can play at a certain level before I’m considered ‘real’ ? No. There are all ranges of talent out there and I don’t feel like it’s fair to measure our dedication and passion purely on our abilities. I long for a future where I can just be subpar without it being blamed on my gender,” said Wright.

As such, an alternatively gendered experience, in the way of including mostly women and non-binary people, was refreshing for Malhas. The same memorable event for her was also distinct in a totally different way—the voices of individuals who are often outcast within gaming were almost exclusively heard.

“The Super Girl Gamer Pro Championship was an event that made me ecstatic to be a woman in esports. I casted alongside another amazing woman, Kari “Kari” Keone, and each team involved in the tournament was required to have at least three female or non-binary players on teams of five. I got the chance to acknowledge the isolating struggle that women have experienced in gaming for too long, and the dialogue between viewers and players was nothing short of wholesome and uplifting”.

It is this kind of repeated opportunity and dialogue that can effectively break down stereotypes between all genders in esports. However, as it currently stands, there are still some adjustments women must make in order to survive the world of gaming.

How to survive and prosper

With these inspirational streams of forward thought, unfortunately also comes a necessity for women (at least for now) to develop certain skills in order to simply play the game (pun intended).

That is to say, no matter the strides made as a gaming culture, women still feel pressure to present themselves in a certain way or use particular sides of themselves more often in order to navigate their gaming career.

“Absolutely, get comfortable standing up for yourself. But, at the same time, you’ll definitely need to learn how to laugh or brush things off where you can. When it comes down to it, just be yourself. You can and will find good people who value and respect you. Don’t let the stigmas of “gamer” culture drive you away—there are plenty of great people; if you have a little patience you will find where you fit,” Wright said.

And although this may take some extra work on the part of ladies (and gamers with other gender identities), ultimately, it could result in developing a thick skin where necessary, but in tandem a certain optimistic positivity which otherwise may not have been developed under easier circumstances. Every cloud has a silver lining, so to speak.

“For many women we grew up with the idea of not being pushy, or bossy. But to be a leader you do have to be those things to some extent. You will face a double standard as all women do in day to day life if you are trying to push forward and improve, and possibly take on a leadership role. Do not let these comments impact you. Let your actions speak louder than their words. Show the world you know who you are, and what you are capable of doing as a gamer,” Benge said.

Though the road to their goals may occasionally be treacherous, women in esports aren’t going anywhere. Not only that, but they want you to know that they have goals in mind for the future—ones which depend only on their esports prowess.

The future of women in esports

Since women have often had to transform themselves within their positions, sometimes even wearing a metaphorical mask or outfitting a particular attitude or persona in order to find their way to the finish line, they’ve become quite adept at change. Their skills range far and wide just from finding their way through the daily female experience.

When you sprinkle in some passion for esports, these women are hitting the ground running, ready to take on whatever challenges appear before them and they certainly aren’t afraid to take some chances, try some things out, and see what works best for them.

“I want to end up as either a team manager, social media coordinator, or a coach. I have yet to put all my eggs in one basket as esports is always changing, and so am I,” Benge said.

Some of those goals and aspirations have to do with the bigger picture, even organization of what the physical gaming landscape will look like in the future.

“I think it would be amazing to be involved in the coordination and planning of larger international esports events,” said Wright.

So, with an open, blank page ahead, women are taking charge of their opportunities, but are not necessarily labelling them. Malhas doesn’t want to think of her career in such limiting terms.

“I’m aiming for a full-time casting career in a professional league or a hosting job for a gaming content channel. I don’t consider different career pathing based on my gender or identity”.

The old and tired traditions of jobs being held by individuals of a certain gender are over. Positions are no longer being seen as male and female. That, and other, binary systems are dying. Female, transgender, non-binary, and all other individuals within the gaming realm are redefining what it means to be a gamer. And, by all accounts, the future appears boundless.