It’s no secret that Esports is one of the fastest growing phenomena right now, but it is still a male-dominated industry. We aren’t only talking about the players but also team owners, managers, coaches, etc. And it's true that the biggest winners of the most spectacular tournaments are typically young males. But there are signs that change is happening, the movement of including more women in gaming is already underway.
Competitive gaming isn’t a physical game like football or basketball where men have a natural advantage over women. It is more like chess where if you have fingers and thumbs, good teamwork, the drive to perform in high-pressure environments and that small quality of skill at the game in question, you can compete at the highest levels.
Times are changing indeed. Women represent 41% of the gamer demographic. The women of our generation have been exposed to gaming at young age. Angela says, “When I was younger I was pretty shy and I used to find it hard to make friends at school and socialize with people in real life. I used to prefer being by myself at home and spend a lot of time on my computer. My sister and I used to spend our vacations playing Mario and Contra. I am a very competitive player, so when I did lose a game or a round I would keep practicing for hours till I got it right.”
Angela was fascinated when she encountered Dota, She was surprised that she could play with her friends online and that got her hooked to it. She played on the Garena servers and was eased into Dota by a lot of people who never made her feel out of place.
Angela’s future wasn't to be in play itself, though, and she very naturally moved from active participation to animated shoutcasting. “This group of gamers from Sri Lanka were having a tournament, and asked if I would like to cast it with them since they liked the way I spoke and felt it would energize the tournament more. I was a little worried and anxious but I gave it a shot and it was fun! Later on that week Nishant from AfkGaming aka CLoudX pinged me on skype saying he is a shout-caster himself and would love to have me on board as a newbee if I was interested in casting, He mentored and taught me a lot. I never knew back then that Casting would become so huge, it was just something very exciting for me and I wanted to keep learning and improving. “
Angela would later on shift to Bangalore to find a way to make shoutcasting her career. She explains that “The biggest challenge was building my brand, it takes a lot of hard work, consistency and patience.” Angela recently attended the India Gaming Show, where she put in a mammoth effort of casting several games like Dota 2, Clash Royale, Street fighter and Rocket League, back to back. “Each game is so different from the other but if you can make it interesting and if you can enjoy the game while casting it, and keep the crowd involved, then you've done a good job!”.
THE COSPLAY COMMUNITY
One area of gaming where there certainly are a few high-profile woman doing their thing is cosplaying. Aorin Shariyari or Colour me Aorin, is the head cosplayer of Cosplay genie and ESL India. She kicked off her cosplay career in September 2011 at an anime convention in New Delhi and she hasn’t looked back since then. She says, “My cosplay skills improved, I started to get more appreciation and I won prizes which lead me to my job and here I am today, from a casual cosplayer to sitting on the judging panel with Tobiwan and Alodia.”. This lead to her being crowned as the ‘Cosplay queen’ in one of her previous interviews.
Aorin takes pride in making her cosplays from scratch. “I even make cosplay tutorials for beginners to encourage new folks, I do ask for help but I always make sure to let people know, who helped me out and give proper credits”
How does Aorin come up with her ideas? “I choose my cosplays according to the characters I love – being a gamer does influence my choice of costumes as 75% of my cosplays are of the gaming genre, I do throw in my love for comics every now and then, but games will always be my first choice.” She answered.
She has become an icon in the Indian gaming community, she has inspire hundreds of girls across the country to pick up cosplaying as an art form. “Recently a young girl of 14 sent me a picture of her room with my poster on the wall. Things like this make you feel special”.
One of the girls Aorin has inspired happens to be Zara Rebello, better known as Purple Shrimp cosplay. “Aorin is my cosplay mummy because she's the one who really got me stuck on to cosplaying” says Zara.
Why are lots of people getting into cosplaying? Zara says “I was always an artist and gaming is something I am obsessed with. Cosplaying is a way for me to do both. Cosplaying lets me be anyone I want to be. Cosplaying lets me bring that fantasy to life.”
Perhaps it is this obsession which lead both Zara and Aorin win a trip to ESL One Genting to compete in the cosplay competition organized there. Or maybe it’s their fans who inspired them and drove them to success. “In Genting, I actually met a couple of people who follow my work and one guy even gifted me a Bloodseeker plushie for my Bloodseeker cosplay, it feels nice when people come up to you for pictures and poster autographs” says Aorin. Zara on the other hand says “A lot of people come up for pictures when they see elaborate cosplays, it feels really good when people recognize or know who I'm cosplaying. “
But not all fan experiences are so endearing. Aorin says “Sometimes I have to deal with one or two guys coming back again and again for like 5-6 times for pics and some just try to put their hands around you, at that point I just have to ask them to leave.”
Zara says, “It kinda gets annoying when people crowd around. At one of the Cons, it took me 3 hours to move 5 meters”. She says that she tries to take photos with everyone but she has to make sure that she doesn’t overwork herself. “As soon I feel tired I just say no”, which annoys a lot of people but she’s firm with her stance.
Zara says, “I'm comfortable showing my skin in cosplays that require me to do so, I just ignore creeps who stare, if it goes further I know how to take care of myself. I'm a girl in India, It's an occupational hazard”
Zara also recalls a particularly harrowing experience ”At Mumbai con last year, This guy asked for a picture. I said okay and he put his arm around my waist without asking I asked him to remove it, he apologized. But then he asked me what my costume was made of and how I sealed it? He asked me if he could see how well it was sealed and the "feel" of the foam, and proceeded to grab my breastplate without waiting for an answer.”
When these harassment incidents happen, the community often fails to adequately address them. Comic cons in India have policies against photography without consent and all other forms of harassment, but many attendees don’t think that these policies have enough details about reporting incidents and disciplinary processes. Some women cosplayers defend themselves — a bold but potentially dangerous move to make with unpredictable strangers. Others are too stunned or hurt to retaliate.
Despite all this, the cosplay scene in India is booming and is now a cutthroat field. “I have seen a bunch of people trying to control or dictate the cosplay scene, while some choose to spit fire and bring others down. People are taking cosplay way too serious and removing the fun element. As cosplay is becoming more mainstream its turning all about making money and winning prizes. “ Aorin grimaced.
But Aorin feels that “India is changing its view on not just cosplay but many other things be it gaming or pop culture, Personally I think India needs to grow as a community and respect each other before we can grow anywhere else”
One year ago Pinda Rika Dorji aka PindaPanda quit her job as a civil engineer to follow her passion, ‘Gaming’. She is now a host and talent in the eGG Network, the first 24/7 eSports and Gaming entertainment network in Southeast Asia”
PindaPanda started gaming when she was 3, “I used to play Super Mario 3, with my grandmother when I was young, it all started from there” she says. PindaPanda, who has been a passionate gamer throughout her life, says that the going got tough when she started working as a civil engineer. “It got to the point of me quitting gaming, my piece of heaven. I just wanted to make gaming fun, so I started making videos of my gameplay. I tend to scream a lot during my videos, I guess people liked that a lot.” she says.
She started a YouTube channel, along with a Facebook page with over 130,000 followers, to stream her live games and produce updates as well as reviews on big competitions. However, even that was getting too hectic for her as she says “On weekdays, I would get drained of all my energy and I couldn’t make any videos.”
So one day when she found an opening at the eGG Network, she decided audition for the job. “It was horrible” she grins. “The interview and the auditions were really bad and when I was about to leave, I just pushed my stream videos to them. Surprisingly, they called me and offered me the job in a few days. So I just went and talked to my parents, who were really supportive of my decision.”
She is now one of the faces of competitive gaming in Malaysia.
Female Only tournaments and Sexism in Gaming
The good old “should we host all women’s events?” question popped it’s head up, once again, when CoolerMaster India announced its #shechosetobe 1V1 competition. This issue has clung to the competitive gaming community for years now and the good old justifications for both sides were tossed back and forth once again.
Pindapanda feels that it is a good move by CoolerMaster. She says “It is a positive move, it encourages women who don’t feel comfortable enough and are hesitant/sceptical to play in the usual tournaments. Events like this are a good move from the Esports industry to encourage women”
When I asked her what she feels about the casual sexism present in gaming? She answered, “When playing an online game, if people get to know that they are playing alongside a woman they second-guess the woman’s judgments”. She wants to change this; she says “I am a girl, I have to prove that female players are actually good and are in no way lesser than their male competitors, I want to break the stereotypes”
She also feels that we bring up sexism too often, when a girl starts gaming, she is automatically tagged as a gamer girl. She says” I don’t identify myself as a female gamer, I’d rather be just a gamer.” “Change the way you look at it yourself, before changing society” She added.
“And this is not just for female gamers, this is for everyone in all the industries, Sexism is always going to be talked about but I won't let it affect me. I just want to do what I love” She concluded.
While the future for female gamers is looking bright in many ways, there are still the shadows of doubt that the stigma still exists. Thankfully, people are beginning to look towards the future and are looking to change this.
These are just a few examples of hundreds of women and their role in the gaming community. We’re actually on the cusp of an Esports breakthrough in India right now and it’s now our duty to not make the same mistakes as our international comrades and include ALL demographics in gaming.
Now, the tides are hopefully turning towards equality not just in Esports and cosplaying but for the gaming culture itself.
You can follow these awesome women at their social media links below