New ground broken is always news, and the debut of the Overwatch League’s first female player last night was going to generate headlines whatever the result. In some ways, the result of Geguri’s debut for the Shanghai Dragons was made irrelevant by the amount of attention the player received anyway, which was fortunate, as they ended up losing 1-3 to Dallas Fuel and starting their campaign with a whimper.
On social media there was a fair degree of excitement for her debut, along with the expected and fairly easy-to-ignore level of trolling that seems to accompany literally anything that happens in esports these days, which some users may have taken too far. Posts about viewers in tears because Geguri is a female player appeared in various spots, and just as with the NBA esports draft, some journalists were keen to proclaim this a big moment for esports overall.
It is fantastic that any youngster could be inspired by the Overwatch League, and there is no doubt that the more diversity we see in the game, the more diversity will be a feature of the game going forward. On the other hand, it seems like the Overwatch League itself is only going to be as diverse at the top level of Korean play for now, with players from outside that region struggling to make anything like the same impact.
The problem is that the individual is also trying to represent themselves as a top level player, and wants to be judged on that rather than how they were born. This is entirely justified, and while it’s not on us to say that is all Geguri can be, anything more has to be her own choice and not thrust upon her. Joining a league of this size, with rules this complex and finickity is not easy to begin with, and she deserves to be treated like all the other players.
Lonely at the top
There have been great female stars in the past of course, most notably in Starcraft, and Overwatch itself has seen female players at the highest level even before the OWL came to fruition. The problem for Geguri is that she has arrived at the top level, alone as a female player, and at a time when the issues surrounding gender in esports generally have made that even more difficult a position to be in.
To add to this, there is actually no reason for her to be the only female player in the game right now. The advantages men are given at birth are physical, and make no difference in the world of FPS shooters, as can be seen from the wide variety of shapes and sizes occupying those sweet esports jerseys. While there are no doubt cultural issues within Overwatch and esports generally, those are harder to define, and the people who like to highlight them never seem to focus on the fact these are toxic environments for beginners of any race, creed or gender.
Of course, the true irony is that somebody has to run the gauntlet and be the first, before the rest can enjoy a ‘normal’ experience. Where we should avoid praising Geguri for the things she did not choose, we should instead make an effort to praise her ability to ignore the accepted ‘wisdom’ that esports is toxic to just women, and her determination to follow a dream, which she shares with her professional peers.
It may seem virtuous to single her out, and offer extra support, but that is the most discriminatory thing you can do without resorting to abuse, as it implies she is somehow weaker, which is clearly not the case. Praise the player for their play, and then girls who dream of following in her footsteps might start to believe they really will be judged on the content of their character skill, rather than their gender.