Gamers can be brutal. Make one mistake in the wrong lobby and that’s it, abuse incoming.
Written or verbal? Depends on the game you’re playing.
And if you’re a woman?
“I think for a lot of women, if you’re playing competitive games, there’s a lot of the same mindset of, ‘if I’m playing badly I represent my entire gender’.”
Leah Alexandra, EXCEL’s latest signing, is a British variety streamer. She started in 2014; before that she was a Motocross videographer. Leah's love of gaming, particularly of Destiny at the time, led her to jump from behind the lens to in front of it. And while her experiences as a streamer have been mostly positive, she feels there are challenges women must face more often than men. And it might be holding them back.
“I remember my first game of Valorant was on the first day of beta. I’d never played a game like that before … I was just having a bit of fun. And during my first game someone yelled at me for not playing correctly. In the beta! On the first day of Valorant!”
Leah is quick to note this doesn’t just happen to women. It might, however, have disproportional effects on women, who tend to be outnumbered by men on PC and console games.
“That, I think, is pretty indicative of what you face immediately if you’re not familiar with the game. … And therefore, we’re still in a position where we don’t have that many women who want to try competing at a high level because it’s still off-putting.”
But Leah, whose career as a streamer spans eight years, thinks things are easier now than they were when she started.
“There was a lot more pushback when I started, for sure. Seven years ago on Twitch, even seeing a woman streaming … I got a lot of comments about how weird it is to see a woman, especially a British woman. There weren’t even that many British streamers in general back then.”
Now part of the EXCEL family, Leah hopes to be a bridge between the casual Twitch viewer and the esports industry; those who haven’t played League of Legends but will catch Worlds to see what the fuss is about. Someone like Leah—a streamer who sees the game through the same prism as her audience, a fan but certainly no die-hard—can foster a community that learns together, and has fun with friends in the process.
“These days there is thankfully a lot more diversity. A lot more women stream these days; it’s more normalised. And in terms of gatekeeping, maybe I’ve just been fortunate because I’ve always found people that are willing to open up their communities. I’m sure there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that I’m not aware of because there always is. … But I’ve found a really lovely group of friends and streamers who’ve been good to me. Gatekeeping can happen in any community, sometimes not even maliciously, but on the flip side there are many communities and individuals trying to make games and events feel less intimidating to dive into.”
Women in esports
As more women enter gaming as content creators, there’s an added push for them to play games competitively. Initiatives like female-only leagues and awards ceremonies attempt to bridge the gender gap in esports. And while Leah doesn’t personally like some of these attempts, it may be necessary to give women the space and the confidence to succeed in a male-dominated field.
“These things like women-only tournaments … are necessary to get to a point where women are comfortable enough to want to try putting themselves in these situations.”
Fostering healthy community
Gaming can be tough for women—indisputably tougher than for men. So much so that Leah uses neutral in-game names—‘Bean Lord’ in Valorant—so as not to draw the ire of a lobby which could turn toxic in the presence of a woman.
But it is also rewarding. Above all else, it offers a shot at shared experience with like-minded people. Asked about how she cultivates a sense of community in her stream, Leah said: “What is a community? It’s a group of people with similar interests who come together, right? So it’s just about finding those points of mutual interest. … And also just talking about anything, really. Like, ‘you know what guys, I feel pretty crap today’. Allowing that insight even beyond what you might usually tell people in a normal conversation.”
There are undoubtedly challenges for women in gaming. But as more enter the industry as fans and as streamers, there’s also massive opportunity for growing together. “We talk about community—there’s nothing that brings the community together more than that excitement of watching [an esports] team excel … I think in itself, that hype is enough of a gateway drug to encourage people to watch esports.”