HAIKOU (China), March 14 — This week’s US$5.5 million World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) Grand Final is shining a spotlight on the female stars of international online gaming as their presence continues to grow across all e-sports.
“There has not been much attention on female gamers but being here this week is like a dream come true,” said Chinese gamer “Hazel”, who forms part of the successful Love Laughing Girls (LLG) team.
While their male counterparts have in the past often grabbed much of the attention — and professional e-sports in general have had a reputation for being male-dominated — female gamers have this week been placed front and centre at the Hainan International Convention & Exhibition Centre in southern China.
WESG is an event which has attracted around 500 of the best online gamers from all over the world, and one which has styled itself in the traditions of an Olympic sport.
To that end, the seven-month qualifying process scoured the world for the very best players, of either sex, while the competitions here are not limited to one particular online game, as some of the large e-sport tournaments are.
The women’s competitions at WESG are being staged in the digital card game Hearthstone and the military combat focused Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) — and the equal billing is being warmly welcomed.
“This is a big stage for us and we are proud to be here with such great players,” said “720”, also part of LLG. “WSEG is a chance for the female players to show the world what we can do.”
Both Hazel and 720 have in recent years been able to combine professional online gaming with their lives as a student and a teacher, respectively.
“When I play, all the stress goes away,” said Hazel.
The WESG is being staged by Alisports — the sports unit of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd — with an eye on e-sports’ possible future participation in the Olympics, plans for which are — beginning to take shape following encouraging signs from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year. The possibilities — being rumoured — are that e-sports are being considered as an exhibition sport at the 2024 Paris Olympics. E-sports are also confirmed to make their debut at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games.
Alisports is at the forefront of the expansion of e-sports across China and has also ensured the female presence at the WESG extends to operations backstage.
China’s Wang Xuewen is one of the female referees being employed this week and is among those keeping watch over the CS:GO competitions.
“There are a few of us women here and there were many who applied to be referees,” said Wang, who believes she was recruited for the job thanks to a long history of playing online games.
“There is still some bias but to be able to get to WESG shows that in e-sports there is no bias in terms of gender.”
720, meanwhile, admitted her parents thought it an incongruous mix to see their daughter spending her down time blasting her way through the combat-themed CS:GO, but her obviously enjoyment, and her success, soon swayed their opinion.
As did the life general life skills the game has helped her develop.
“My parents are very traditional and they were surprised when I was a little girl that I played with toy soldiers, and not dolls,” said 720. “But they have seen how happy this game makes me, and how much success I have had — competing internationally and being on the (TV) news.
“[CS:GO] is a game you can become totally immersed in while you have to learn how to work as part of a team. As a professional, you have to practise and practise, but you learn about team work and dealing with challenges.”
It certainly seems the talent base is growing in China. According to industry surveys, female gamers account for almost one in four gamers in China aged between 10 and 35 years old — compared to just 17 per cent in both North American and Europe. Overall, China has an online gaming community of an estimated 560 million people.
Hong Kong gamer “Yan” — taking part in the Hearthstone event — is hoping her presence in such a large-scale event as the WESG will show other female gamers, both in her home city and globally, that more and more opportunities are being presented.
“This is a great opportunity for me to showcase my skills against the very best in the world,” said Yan. “I hope I can bring inspiration — it will depend on my results. But I hope other women can see what is happening here and see where e-sports can take them.” — AFP