In the following opinion piece, industry veteran, Dignitas VP of Talent, and CS:GO champion Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo explains why things are getting better for women playing games professionally and working in the esports industry.
I’m Heather, better known as sapphiRe. I’ve been actively involved in the gaming industry since 2000, during a time when Counter-Strike started gaining traction, LAN tournaments were popping up across the globe, and my parents needed to hang up the phone so I didn’t lag mid-match on my 56K dial-up connection.
It was also a time where I was the only woman in the room. It was a time where my friends said not to use the name “Heather” as my in-game name so people don’t realize I’m a girl (and in retrospect, sapphiRe wasn’t much better as far as concealing my gender). As a multi-sport varsity athlete, it was a time where I needed to lie to my “cool friends” about what I was doing on the weekends or after school. There was no way I’d let them know I’m a gamer. That would have been horrifying. It’s just simply not what “normal” girls do, or what society led me to believe.
Twenty years later, in a time when nearly every esports team, tournament organizer, game publisher, and brand is making an effort to be more diverse and inclusive (which is rightfully so and important), I have a different perspective than most. There’s no doubt that there should be more women on broadcasts, in professional teams, working in management positions, and simply as fans of esports. However, with my 20-year perspective – something that very few people have given how new the industry is, I’m here to say – it’s getting better.
Every year, every month, every day, I see more women involved in our beloved space. There was a time when there wasn’t a single woman on broadcast, finding women live streaming gameplay was difficult and crossing paths with other women in matchmaking was simply impossible.
The change from 2000 to 2021 is significant. Women are CEOs of professional esports teams. Women’s teams and co-ed teams are defeating high-tier rosters in games like Valorant. Women are not just a token of an esports broadcast, but are highly sought-after hosts, interviewers, analysts, and commentators that drastically elevate the quality of a broadcast. Women are popular live streamers, engaging audiences of millions. Lastly, women are fans of esports. A 2019 study found that 30% of global esports fans are women. I imagine that number is even higher in 2021. Sure, that’s not yet 50/50 but it’s better, and that’s what gets me excited.
Every year, more women participate in this industry that many of us love more than anything. Using Valorant as an example, more than ever before, I’ve been randomly paired with more women than men in my ranked lobby. That just simply never used to happen. More women are studying game demos to improve their game knowledge. More women are using tools like Aimlabs and Kovaaks to train their aim and reactions. More women are grinding their butts off to improve their rank, form a team, and compete.
This is an exciting year, not just for women, but for everyone. Esports has never been more welcoming, more diverse, and more inclusive. We can, should, and must do better. There’s always room for improvement, but I hope you leave reading this knowing that each and every day in esports, it’s getting better.
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