The players threaten to rape and kill me. It will not take me away from the sport that I love’

I always feel a little weird talking about how much I like playing video games, I’m not sure if it’s because it’s something I learned in college as an adult; the surveillance that many game lovers like to engage in (yes, you can still enjoy video games even if you only play Animal Crossing); or the gender bias that makes women a small minority in the world of video games, maybe it’s all three.

Outside of work, I play a lot of games. In the last two weeks I’ve racked up nearly as many hours as a full-time job playing things like Stardew Valley, Cat CafĂ© Manager, and Breath of the Wild, but no game can come close to my main love, Dota 2. On the multiplayer battlefield online (MOBA), teams of five face each other to try to destroy the enemy team’s base building, which is protected by a series of towers and each player. It’s horribly complicated if you’re new to the idea, but terribly addictive once you try it.

In the last six years, I’ve spent over 2,000 hours playing this game, playing nearly 3,000 matches with nearly all of the 123 heroes available to play in the game. I went from casual gamer to esports enthusiast, flying to Sweden last month to watch some of the best teams in the world play each other for a share of the $500,000 prize pool. I’ll even be playing for my country in August, representing Wales at the Commonwealth Esports Games in a women’s Dota 2 team.

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It has been amazing. These opportunities have given me the chance to finally meet dozens of people I’ve only ever interacted with online, people I consider true friends, and I’ve even been recognized for the work I’ve done commenting on games, a practice known as casting, during the last year.

But none of that love and joy is a real representation of what it can be like to be a girl interested in games. Over the past few years, for every positive comment or person I’ve surrounded myself with, I’ve received dozens of horrible comments and messages, telling me to get back in the kitchen, calling me useless, saying I should take my own life. , and threatening to rape or sexually assault me.

Once someone even threatened to kill me, but because the worst of these threats take place in the game’s voice chat, there is too little evidence to report to the game company for these players to be punished for their conduct.

Players have threatened to, or actually quit the game, or intentionally tried to lose the game after hearing my voice, bullied me into trying to date them, and blamed everything on me because of my gender.

I have very little fear of any of these threats coming true, but that doesn’t make it any less tiring or acceptable to hear them in the first place. Obviously, working as a journalist means I don’t expect everyone to like me, but I never expected one of my hobbies to be the main source of hate in my life.

It’s not just exclusive to me, as other players share their experiences with sexism quite regularly, shedding light on the toxicity in the scene. Mary Gushie, a gaming journalist from Canada, speaks regularly about the hateful sexism she has come up against, including some very graphic rapes and death threats, and writes about that experience in an article for Games Industry. Mary’s work and her ability to stand up and call out this abominable behavior helped others like me to see that this was not our problem, but a systemic problem with sexism throughout the scene.

People across all games experienced similar levels of vile hate, threats, and bullying from the people around them, with nearly every weirdo girl thirsty comment people had encountered in their games or criticizing everything possible being it happened to them to degrade women. in question.

There are some amazing groups that are very vocal about the right to have a non-toxic, welcoming space for women to enjoy playing their favorite games. I volunteer with Dota Valkyries, an organization for women interested in gaming, Women in Esports, an initiative run by British Esports, and Esports Wales, my national body for gaming, to help other women feel safer to speak up and just enjoy of the game. I play the same way their male counterparts can.

Even without the demotion, it’s abundantly clear that something isn’t quite right in the gaming industry: there’s a disproportionate number of men in senior roles in esports, and a huge gap between the number of men and women who attend professional events. , which cannot be attributed to any women playing games.

Studies suggest that about 40 percent of console gamers are women, while women make up the majority of the market for role-playing games like The Witcher, Elder Scrolls, and the Fallout series on PC. The problem isn’t that women don’t want to play, it’s that sexism and male-dominated spaces keep them away from certain aspects of gaming and esports, making it even harder to attract new women to the community.

In one game, three of the four people on my team instantly reacted negatively when they heard my voice, berating me with sexist and sexual comments until I silenced everyone on the team.

You may not think it matters, but sexism in the esports industry is absurd. Last year, ESL, one of the biggest tournament organizers on the scene, announced the GG For All initiative, which included a $500,000 women-only competitive scene for Counter Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO), receiving dozens of messages protesting the plan. , with people complaining that women were given an unfair competitive advantage, “wasted money” and didn’t deserve a place in the spotlight.

Why? It’s hard to say for sure, but elements of bigotry and bruised egos were on full display when people opposed the idea, which would split that $500,000 into two leagues, each with a $150,000 prize pool for 24 teams and a $100,000 event between the two. suspenders.

Overall, that’s a pretty small amount of money compared to the $1 million events known as Majors, available to professional CS:GO players, of which there are usually three in a year. But even if those who oppose the scheme are right, why does it matter? There are currently no women competing on the main stage of any CS:GO or Dota 2 competition, leaving people like me with no role models to aspire to.

Dota Valkyries is one of the main groups that supports women interested in the game, and I have been on the commentary team for several of their tournaments.

It’s not a case of women not being good enough because there are so many high-ranking women in the scene. The reasons why there are no professional players are too complex to be resolved with a simple “improve”, but of course, adding nuance levels to the discussion would completely destroy the “gotcha” arguments that many of these people they like them To participate in.

The most heartbreaking thing for me is that people don’t consider how this vile hate affects the women around them, the players who don’t have the ability or desire to turn pro or see their faces on the main stage broadcast. It means that women don’t use their microphones to speak in-game, play alone, or even not play at all for fear of being abused.

It prevents women from feeling like there is a place to play and reinforces the gender divide we see imprinted on boys from a young age with Xbox and PlayStation accessories made for boys, with nothing about video games geared towards girls.

I’m proud to stand up and put myself out there and say that I like playing video games. The hate I receive hurts, but if another woman can see me and feel more comfortable starting one of her favorite games, then I have accomplished something amazing that is worth the pain.

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