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Why We Still Need a Women-Only 'Counter-Strike' Tournament

This week DreamHack announced a $100,000 prize pool for its women’s CS:GO event.

by Nicole Carpenter
May 24 2019, 1:30pm

Image: Valve

This week, esports tournament organizer DreamHack announced a new Counter-Strike: Global Offensive event—the DreamHack Showdown, which is set to be held in Valencia, Spain in early July. It’s got a massive $100,000 prize pool, and will pit eight women’s CS:GO teams from across the world against each other. Two teams will qualify from Europe, North America, and Asia each, and two teams have already secured direct invitations: Dignitas and Beşiktaş Esports.

But as is usually the case with women's esports events, some people are upset that it’s only open to women’s teams. “Generally speaking, the community mostly has a negative reaction to women’s-only CS:GO events,” professional CS:GO player Benita Novshadian told VICE. “The most-asked question is, ‘Why do females need their own event with their own prize pool? They aren’t restricted from regular ones.’”

And that’s true. Women participating in women’s-only events are not limited to these kind of events—and they don’t want to be. But the reality is that CS:GO, and esports in general, remains a male-dominated space that can be hostile to women. (Again, just look—or not—at the comments on the tournament announcement Reddit thread.) There’s some perception that women's’ events are taking resources away from the co-ed scene and other major events. But that’s simply not the case; exclusive events can exist alongside co-ed events. Women’s-only events provide a safe place for women to build skills and make a name for themselves, which can then broadly encourage more women to play the game competitively.

DreamHack Showdown is akin to Formula 1 racing’s W Series, which is a women’s league for single-seater race car driving. Like esports, there’s no real physical barrier between men and women in driving—only a barrier of opportunity. “We firmly believe that women and men can race one another on equal terms provided they are given the same opportunity,” W Series representatives wrote in a blog post last year. W Series is that opportunity, reducing the barrier of entry—in racing, it’s high cost which leads to lack of platform for women—to encourage women to keep with the sport. It’s already extremely difficult to reach the pinnacle of elite esports or racing; only a small number make it to the top. Programs like these balance things out for “disproportionately disadvantaged women” in the sport, W Series wrote.

“I’d love to never have a female-only event again, but in the meantime, those events have resulted in women being more active in the competitive scene for CS:GO than any other esport,” Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo, a former professional CS:GO player and current vice president of market at North American esports organization Dignitas, wrote on Twitter.

“The response to the [women’s] events are always half, half,” French CS:GO player Sophia "Kim" Benfakir told VICE. “Many people think it’s a waste of money, energy, and time that could be spent on men rather than women.” Benfakir had one tip for other players who participate in these events: Never read the comments section.

DreamHack creative producer Dagny Veinberg told VICE that the company, which is a major player in esports tournaments and events, has been discussing for years how to make its spaces more welcoming to women. (In the past, DreamHack has opened a women’s-only space at certain events, called “Female Legends.” These spaces held bring-your-own-computer tournaments and seating sections to women and non-binary folks at the event.) “The goal is not to have separated women’s tournaments. The goal is mixed tournaments, at least at DreamHack. But to help women who come to these events, give them role models and make them feel more welcome to play and pursue professional careers in CS:GO, these [women only] tournaments are needed.”

Counter-Strike has a rich history of women’s-only events, unique in the intensely competitive arena its created for the players who participate. Novshadian said that women’s events have been held since 2005, first with the Electronic Sports World Cup held in Paris. “This tournament is what created the female community in Counter-Strike and it motivated women to create teams together to compete,” she said.

“It keeps me motivated to stay on top of the scene and for the community,” Novshadian added. “It encourages and inspires other female players who want to step into the world of competitive CS:GO.”

A high profile event like DreamHack Showdown is even more of an incentive for players interested in playing professionally. “[The] $100,000 prize pool is so exciting,” CS:GO player Klaudia Beczkiewicz said. “It’s unheard of. This is one of the biggest events of the year.”

Beczkiewicz noted that she doesn’t think of herself as a female player, just a competitive CS:GO player. It’s a sentiment shared by many women in the space—the desire to get to place where they’re not seen purely as the best female player in a given game, but just the best player, while still embracing the role they play as a woman in the space. There’s plenty of back-and-forth between the desire to just blend in with the community, but we’re not at a point where there is gender parity in esports. Women’s events relieve players of pressure of being women in a male-dominated industry, while still showcasing the importance of their presence in the space.

“Many female players get involved in competitive CS:GO simply from watching female events,” Beczkiewicz said. “Maybe in the future, there will be a female player who is able to break those barriers—but having female events is a good way to bring exposure and enlighten the community.”