The world of esports is perceived as a boy’s club, so women in competitive gaming already face an uphill battle. But superior gameplay is superior gameplay, and precision skills are not the exclusive province of any gender.
We wanted to see what life was like for an all-women esports team, so we spoke to the team LGB eSports. Based in Norway but with five players from all over Europe, the CS:GO team consists of Kim (Sophia Benfakir), Hedje (Hege Botnen), Missa (Meyssa Bellouati), Mattye (Matilde Wiik), and L.K.S. (Lizette Scheich). Through talking with the team, we learned that no matter the obstacles they face, what sets them apart is how much they love the game — and how hard they’re willing to train.
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We’re always interested in a good origin story, so we polled LGB to see where they got their start. “I wasn’t into gaming before, but my brother was playing a lot,” says Kim, calling in from Enghien-les-Bains, France. “And I just got really curious because he was playing it all day, and then I started to try it.” A natural talent, it only took a few short months before Kim was recognized online for her accuracy and signed to a competitive team. Now she is LGB’s most aggro player.
For Hedje, from Bergen, Norway, a IRL sports injury sparked her passion for esports. “I was playing football up until I was 16,” Hedje explains. “We had all been playing together since we were kids, and it was the last time we were going to play together, and it didn’t go so well for me. I got a really bad knee injury and I got carried off the field.” After her injury, she basically got plopped down in front of a gaming PC. “I started playing the game just to get off the frustration from being injured,” she says. “It’s a good way to get the competitive spirit, when you have that [but] you can’t do sports.”
So what is it like playing as a woman in esports? “You always have people who underestimate females,” says Kim. “Sometimes people are like, ‘I’m not going to play because you’re female, you are not going to be good.’ They are not expecting us to actually know how to do things.” Missa, speaking from Grenoble, in the south of France, tries to keep the focus on her playstyle, not her sex. She says, “I always want to improve and, in my mind, it’s not female or male, I’m just a player.” The newest member of the team, Missa doesn’t let the politics of the sport get her down, letting her impeccable aim speak for itself.
“When anything is generalized it’s usually the wrong perception,” says London-based Mattye. “I think a lot of times people generalize what a female gamer really is. It’s not really only gender, but it’s sexual orientation, and race, and anything that the trolls online can knock down and get a reaction from.”
But, overall, the team believes that the esports community is really growing up and maturing. “I started playing really early in 2003,” says Hedje, “and I have noticed that there’s a big change in how much harassment online that you get. The level of harassment has really been brought down, and now when I play I don’t hide that I’m a female player. I think it’s going in a positive direction. Honestly I think it matters that we as female teams and female players get exposure so that we’re visual to the everyday and casual player.”
For LGB, like all great esports teams, the key to success is practice, practice, and more practice. The team spends six to eight hours a day practicing together, focusing on teamwork and tactics, but they also all take plenty of personal time to practice alone and focus on their individual skill sets.
“Usually we play online,” says Sweden-based L.K.S., the team’s sneakiest and stealthiest player. “So we’re not meeting each other because we live in different places in the world. It’s hard to get together.” Nevertheless, in the run-up to the recent Copenhagen Games, the team traveled to the city a week early in order to meet up and take part in an IRL boot camp. All this hard work and dedication paid off: LGB made it to the playoff finals of the tournament’s female bracket, a big achievement for such the up-and-coming team.
Is it really that important for the entire team to spend time training together in a boot camp? “For sure,” says Mattye, “because when we’re playing at events we aren’t sitting in our gaming rooms at home being comfortable with a cup of tea in our sweatpants. When we’re playing at a boot camp it actually gives us a feel for how the tournaments actually are.”
When not training together and online, the team tries to de-stress in various ways. Kim’s learning a new language, studying every night. Mattye likes to stream non-competitive games with friends while not practicing CS:GO. And L.K.S. enjoys watching junior hockey with her dad, a long-time family tradition.
But they take their esport extremely seriously. Regardless of the prejudices some may have toward women gamers, LGB (and many other female teams) are proving that a combination of dedication, practice, and precision do a fine job of silencing the trolls and making the case for better representation. “This is our job,” explains Hedje, “and we treat it as a full-time job. It’s amazing to be able to do what you love to do.”
Giaco Furino is a writer living and working in Brooklyn. He contributes frequently to The Creators Project, Tribeca Shortlist’s Outtake, Rhapsody magazine, and more.