No Overwatch League Team Signed The Game's Most Notable Female Pro To Their Roster

Image credit: Blizzard.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- During yesterday's Overwatch League media day in Los Angeles, one of the most mentioned names belonged to a player who's not even on an OWL team. Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon, a top-level Zarya player who overcame a rash of cheating accusations and threats in 2016, was on the tip of everybody's tongues, but nowhere to be found.

Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon became a big name in the Overwatch scene when she was just 17, after she was bombarded with cheating accusations and death threats over her masterful play of pink-haired better-biceps-than-you-haver Zarya.

In response to the cheating allegations, she hosted a livestream in which she showed both game footage and her hands on the keyboard and mouse, to prove that she was, in fact, Just That Good. She went on to become the first woman ever to play for a team in South Korea's then-premiere (and now defunct) APEX league.

While Geguri is definitely not the only woman playing Overwatch at the game's highest levels, she's currently the most accomplished and well-known in the world of elite esports. Thus, it wasn't long before members of the press started asking about her -- and the complete absence of women players in general -- during media day Q&As that were meant to introduce teams' rosters.

The Houston Outlaws, for example, spent a solid chunk of their 20-minute conference engaging with the question, noting that Geguri wasn't a good fit for them because of the language barrier and concerns over co-ed player housing, and that other women hoping to join the scene face a serious uphill battle.

Image credit: Blizzard.

"You have to go through all these hurdles, like if you pick up a player, is the press gonna call it a PR stunt, or is it because she was the best?" said Outlaws general manager Matt Rodriguez.

"For that even to be the perception, it'd be so terrible to be her," added Outlaws DPS player Jacob "JAKE" Lyon. "People would always be doubting, always be judging. So it has to be the right person, the right player, and those things have to come together at the right moment -- which makes it especially hard for women in the scene right now."

In a follow-up interview, Rodriguez said that players like Geguri just need to keep on grinding despite the additional obstacles in their paths. He explained that he views Overwatch League as "really professional," but lower tier scenes are "more wild west."

"There is absolutely no reason that she couldn't do it," he said, referring to Geguri. "I think she knows that. I know she's had a lot of trouble. I've read a lot of articles about her having hard times, and that sucks. But that's the hurdle. You have to get through all the shit and negativity you're gonna read on Reddit or Inven or whatever."

I heard this line of reasoning a few times throughout the day: now isn't the time to give women players a shot, but someday they will totally be part of the Overwatch League, somehow. One team will snap up a woman player, and then the floodgates will open. In the meantime, women will just have to work harder than everyone else and also only enter when the circumstances are exactly right.

Image credit: Blizzard.

New York Excelsior, a team whose roster is made up entirely of Korean players and therefore wouldn't have encountered the sort of language barrier that dissuaded Houston from seriously considering Geguri, similarly decided that she just doesn't fit their current goals.

"When we were constructing the roster, we were looking for a team that had experience playing together as a core," said Scott Tester, who played a large role in assembling NYXL's roster, in an interview. "Geguri is a talented player. She plays off-tank, which I think is a really important role to have chemistry with the rest of your team. We were trying to find someone who already meshed well with their team. So I don't think it was really about her specific level of skill; she's a really talented player."

Instead, NYXL ended up grabbing the roster of top tier Korean team LW Blue. Tester added, however, that at some point he'd love to have a team that's not all-men. "Absolutely," he said.

London Spitfire, another team with an all-Korean roster, never considered Geguri for their team, once again because they claimed to want a fully functioning team out of the box instead of a bunch of talented players who might not have communication locked in yet.

Coach Beom-joon "Bishop" Lee also mentioned to Compete that he only wanted free agents for the team and was "not sure" if Geguri qualified. However, Spitfire ultimately ended up mashing multiple formerly successful Korean teams together, leading to a lack of synergy that Lee said partially explains Spitfire's up-and-down run during the Overwatch League preseason.

Despite the apparent double standard, Dan Fiden, president of Cloud9, the esports organisation that London Spitfire is a part of, acknowledged that organisations need to play a role in making esports more welcoming and less toxic for players who aren't men. He believes that involves starting from "the beginning."

Image credit: Blizzard.

"We've been pretty vocal about our plans to build out a youth esports ecosystem for Overwatch and other games," Fiden said in an interview. "That's why we're building out a facility that actually has a place where you can go and play on a team -- play on the junior Cloud 9s. We think that infrastructure like that will foster an environment where people will feel like they can go and play competitive video games in a safer place."

For now, though, Overwatch League is still in an awkward spot. Since the very beginning, Blizzard has touted Overwatch as a game of inclusivity and diversity, with a selection of characters that includes everything from multiple women of colour to a moon ape.

And yet, as Overwatch makes its debut on its biggest stage ever, the pro scene's most accomplished woman player is nowhere to be found. Instead, there's only chatter that uncritically echoes the allegedly meritocratic points of view we've heard from other esports scenes for years. Yes, women have it harder, players, coaches, and owners admit, but they will win out in the end. Just, you know, later.

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Comments

    "There is absolutely no reason that she couldn't do it," he said

    "... except for all the discrimination against women that I just described and will continue to uphold."

    You can learn so much about the e-sports scene from reading these responses. It shows how far it still needs to be before it’s a proper profession and not a hobby being run by a bunch of overgrown man-children.

    With the money that’s involved in the “sport” these days you just can’t say the kinds of things these guys are saying. It’s either a profession or it’s not, you can’t choose not to include women who are eligible and then say it’s because of co-ed housing- if it was any other profession you’d have a formal complaint and possibly a lawsuit coming your way.

    Correct response for a professional person trying not to get sued: “We didn’t pick her because we didn’t need that role in our team, but we certainly thought about it. I’m very surprised that nobody picked her up because she’s very good. I think if anyone didn’t pick her because of her gender that’s extremely unfortunate, unacceptable and probably their loss”.

    The only legitimate reason for not picking her(or anyone assuming they understood the meta) would be if her apm was too low and she didn't mesh with the other team members. One is a skill metric which you either hit or don't and the other is the psychology and temperament of the team at large and how they function as a unit.

    "She's a really talented player, but she probably has cooties so it's a no from us"

    While talking about diversity, why does the OWL have so many koreans? Seems a bit racist to think that only koreans can be top-tier players.

      Because they are really good, one team is literally called Seoul Dynasty, and for the most part teams have just used an existing roster from an old OW esports team, in which some had predominately Korean players... (example, Seoul I believe is using the majority of the roster from Lunatic-Hai which was 100% Korean players...)

        Ah cool. Taking on existing rosters from OW esports teams would also explain why the "most notable female pro" is also not hired... Unless of course they took on the rest of her team and went 'nah' on Geguri.

          No Geguri was on a minor esports team. She would have to try out to be on one of the current teams. She's also not on a team competing in OW Contenders (I believe, maybe wrong on that one) which puts her at a disadvantage of getting picked up too. She's even come out and said that being a woman was never the reason she wasn't picked up.

    Kind of curious to me that the London and New York teams are both entirely Korean players. Do the team names not have anything to do with where the team is actually from, or did it just happen to be the case that the best players in London were all Korean?

    ...Anyway, reading the responses about why this player wasn't picked was a real cringefest, but I guess I kind of appreciate the honesty? Like, they don't pretend that 'oh it has nothing to do with her being a woman' - they're pretty upfront about the fact that that DID have something to do with it. Which is, y'know, terrible, but if they're at least not lying about it maybe it'll be easier to change.

      The team names in fact dont have anything to do with anything. Most of the teams in fact are purchased by companies/entities who had enough money to buy in. They sorta line up with where the teams are, like the Kraft group (who own the New England Patriots in the NFL) are owners of the Boston Uprising. But the London Spitfire is owned by an American coporation (from memory) and has all Korean players, so yeah...

        Ah okay, that's kind of weird, but whatever.

          The main reason (I believe) they went with the city based teams rather than random companies making up team names (like esports is currently with teams like Envyus and Cloud9 for example) is that if an entity behind the team drops out for whatever reason, another company can take ownership without having to recreate a brand from scratch. So, if the Kraft group dropped out of owning the Boston Uprising, they would still be called the Boston Uprising, even though Microsoft (as an example) took over. They still have all the same fans who know who they are etc, just new ownership behind the scenes...

    It is silly that there are no female players, but the entitlement that its not at all possible that these players are just better at the current meta is fucking atrocious.

      Tip for next time: If you read the article first (especially the quotes straight-out saying that women aren't picked because they're women), it might help you avoid making comments this dumb.

        Ehhh shit happens, was on the end of my break and what I had time to read was preachy. Shit happens.

          why were you so sensitive to the perception of entitlement that you saw some where it wasn't there

    It would be suicide for the team, all the attention and pressure. No matter what happened they would still have group's branding them sexist because of some play they made they didn't fully include her or they would find a reason for something.

      Wait wait wait.....so they're excluding female players as a means of avoiding being labelled as sexist?

      Sorry, but that is just so incomprehensibly stupid I'm not sure what else to say.

        Hi, you're obviously new to the world. In any undertaking people do there will always be people why nay say your actions. They way to stop people doing that is to never do the action in the first place.

        So if you have a female on your roster there will be group's that will say you didn't include them enough no matter what you do. So the way to stop that is not have any in your roster at all.

        She's a quite famous individual so you can guarantee all eyes and the up most scrutiny will be put on that team, more so than a team that didn't include her.

        All teams will be branded sexist but at least if you don't include her the blame is spread across all teams not just one.

          If they're trying to avoid people complaining about them being sexist, the solution is clearly not for them to be more sexist. That would be utterly illogical.

    https://twitter.com/slasher/status/951551305922809856

    I'll assume you're drafting your retraction now.

      Retraction for what specifically?

        For wild speculation aiming to manufacture artificial drama, without even bothering to ask the woman in question.

          There's literally no speculation in the whole article. She's not there. That's a fact. Everything else comes from quotes from the players and management themselves.

            Don't be dense mate. Clearly the whole point of this article is to imply Geguri's exclusion was due to sexism. Which is incorrect.

              No need to be rude. A retraction is for when something is factually incorrect - which this isn't.

              And yes, whilst it appears that sexism wasn't necessarily the reason for her not being selected specifically (a point that's not contradicted or challenged in the article at all), it's pretty obvious from the quotes provided that it's the main reason why there are zero female competitors in the league overall - which is the point of the article. The fact that she wasn't selected is just the jumping off point.

                Sorry, sounded less harsh in my head. And you're right, retratction probably isn't the right word, but a follow up is definitely needed.

                My read of those quotes is that all the teams are too scared to straight out say Geguri isn't good enough. Which is ironically itself a weird form of sexism.

    Out of all the excuses the concerns over co-ed housing really grinds my bones. What a terrible excuse

      Yeah same. It's either a terrible excuse or a really sad indictment on the maturity level of the competitors and organisers.

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