EVA ZHU – “Don’t worry, if Jasmine does anything, we’ll just rape her” was one of the many messages that circulated in a private Discord server aimed at harassing Jasmine Lam.
Lam, who’s currently finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto, has been the president of both UofT’s esports association and League of Legends (LoL) club since April. She says the private Discord server is just the latest attack in a string of terrifying incidents.
This summer, a guy from the esports association stalked her for two months, monitoring her messages in every UofT Discord chat. He would screenshot them and ask her questions about these messages. If her answer deviated from what she said a year ago, he would question why it changed.
The private Discord server was created following changes Lam made to the esports association’s Discord rules. The new rules required all users to be nice. One of Lam’s friends who was added to the server sent her screenshots of the misogynistic messages. Some of the others were, “All these guys just follow Jasmine around like her pets” and “Jasmine has all these guys whipped.”
Choking back tears, Lam said, “I’m seriously afraid. I’m a small girl, and they’re all large men. For at least two months, I found messages of them saying they were going to rape me.” The scariest threat she remembers is, “they were going to kill me where my friend committed suicide.”
While these incidents are few and far in between, Lam gets objectified daily. She says there are guys in both the esports association and the LoL club who chalk her being president to “because I’m a pretty Asian girl, and I’m the gamer dream girl.” Every time she attends gaming events and competitions, guys follow her around, try to touch her inappropriately and ask for her personal information.
Unfortunately, these types of comments aren’t exclusive to Lam or the esports community at UofT. Amanda Wong is the vice president of the esports association at the University of British Columbia. She says whenever she walks into a room filled with esports gamers, she feels like all eyes are on her.
Every time Wong streams herself play LoL on Twitch or on Discord, men playing against her hurl the same insults at her. She’s lost count of how many times a guy has said “Why is a girl playing?’ and “I can’t believe I lost to a girl!”
She says guys often hit on her when she’s streaming. But, when she ignores them, they’ll either assume she’s shy and tell her to add them after the game, or they’ll become aggressive. “I’ve learned to be unaffected by the comments I receive. After a while, you get thick skin,” Wong said.
After years of playing LoL, Wong has realized that there’s no middle ground for women in gaming. Most of the time, they’re either viewed as an anomaly because they play video games, or they’re shunned by male gamers in the community for being a woman.
Video games are a man’s world, and so the bar for being taken seriously as a woman in gaming is a lot higher. Women are forced to prove their legitimacy as a gamer.
In 2018, Riot Games, the company that makes LoL, was exposed by several former female employees for being a toxic and sexist workplace. One former employee revealed to Kotaku that during her job interview, “she was asked to recall her favorite trinket from a 2004 World of Warcraft raid.” Even though she had already talked about in detail the games she played and how often she played them. She said, “I was trying to prove to this executive that I wasn’t lying about playing games.”
Jesse Hawker, a member of UBC’s esports association, explained that the misogynistic attitudes in the gaming community have to do with the original audience that video games targeted back in the 1980s. “Video games have always been a boy’s thing, and guys are resistant to women entering their ‘space’,” he said.
Hawker says that since there are so few women compared to men in the gaming community, especially in the esports industry, it’s much more difficult for women to receive representation and recognition for being good.
One of the most well-known examples of this comes from South Korea. Back in 2016, Geguri, then 17, was one of the best competitive professional Overwatch players in the world. However, some male Overwatch players accused her of using aimbots and cheating. These players spent hours dissecting her gameplay looking for hints she was cheating.
Two professional esports gamers were so convinced that she was cheating they vowed to quit playing the game if she could prove she wasn’t. She took them up on their promise and streamed her playing the game with a camera pointed at her mouse hand.
Sadly, not all women in gaming come out on top. This summer, a 15-year-old girl named Bocchi beat a professional male gamer at Smash Bros. at AON #27, a local tournament held in New York. After enduring nonstop harassment from other Smash Bros. players, she shut down her Twitter account. She made a statement saying “I will either be done with smash or begin competing under a new name to avoid this attention I’ve gained. I will stop streaming and find my path by myself. Do not expect me to be Bocchi anymore. I’m done. If I do come back to the community.”
While some people came to her defense, others weren’t happy that she gained such notoriety from winning a local tournament. People cited Puppeh, a 16-year-old gamer who beat multiple professional players at a bigger tournament, gaining only one follower.
Other players of Smash Bros. attributed Bocchi’s rise in popularity to her being a girl gamer.
While there are initiatives and organizations aimed at combatting this rampant sexism in esports and lifting up women in gaming, they’re not the solution. FemmeFerocity and WeAre might be able to change the attitudes of some competitive esports players, but tackling this must start with changing the culture around video games.
Many younger boys see older players make misogynistic comments towards women and think it’s the normal thing to do. If they see the same players raising women up, they’ll start to do the same. Professional gamers need to set a positive example for the young boys watching them at home.
This article was originally published on Eva Zhu’s Website.