This past week, 18-year-old Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon took to Twitter to say that she felt ugly and fat. This is pretty standard for someone in that age bracket; Geguri just is the first female player signed to an Overwatch League team, expected to make her competitive debut as Shanghai Dragons' new flex tank next week.
Geguri's public expressions of insecurity seem to be sparked by her fast-approaching OWL Stage 3 debut. On Saturday, she wrote an unnecessary apology to her fans about her looks: "When I get stressed, I start binge eating so I get fat. I'm sorry for being ugly. In stage 3, I'll work hard to show a good side of myself, if only in the game!" Yesterday, she posted a follow-up: "I'm getting so fat, you can call me Toad now." (Her gaming handle, "Geguri", means "frog" in Korean.)
She didn't respond to our request for comment, but her few public statements have made clear that she has approached the spotlight with great reluctance. When leaks emerged suggesting that Shanghai Dragons had signed her, Geguri posted: "I was talking about going to a foreign team for a month. What is this sudden big deal?" and then, "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. So tiring."
On the day Shanghai Dragons announced her official signing, Geguri continued to downplay the significance, posting, "Big picture, half success. I'll work hard and try my best." Getting signed to a team was only half the battle. The other half? Competing against the best Overwatch has to offer… with even higher and more unfair expectations, given that she's the only woman in the league.
Geguri hasn't even played yet, and her looks have already been a topic of discussion among viewers, with the most common refrain being that she doesn't look feminine enough. When Geguri first arrived in LA, the competitive Overwatch subreddit spiralled into discussion of her new shorter haircut, with one user writing, "She looks like a thicc Carpe tbh." (Jae-hyeok "Carpe" Lee is a male Overwatch pro.) When she made an appearance at the Blizzard Arena, the Twitch chat filled with similar sentiments: "Cute boy," "She?" and "That's a girl?"
It isn't clear whether Geguri's recent posts are in response to viewers' criticism, but the few female pros that have emerged in esports over the past two decades have historically been subject to scrutiny of their appearance. It's difficult to succeed in esports as a woman without conventional good looks.
In 2004, all-female gaming team the Frag Dolls asked applicants to send in "a few photos" along with their gaming resume.
In 2007, the Championship Gaming Series drafted female players of widely varying skill levels; Amber Dalton of PMS Clan told us last year that she believed some of the draft selections "had to do with appearance".
In 2011, StarCraft player Kim "Eve" Shee-Yoon got tapped to join a professional team in part due to her skills, but also, her "looks".
In 2016, the team manager for the Chinese all-female gaming team Twin Flower Girls told Motherboard that he evaluates prospective members based on their looks: "If there are two CVs in front of an investor, with one showing a girl with good appearance and the other with good skills but who is ugly, the investor will definitely choose the first."
That casting process assumes the average esports viewer is a straight man who would only want to see female players at gaming tournaments if they look hot. Most esports viewers are men, sure, but there are women watching, to say nothing of other people who are attracted to people other than conventionally attractive women, or esports fans who are watching for competition's sake. Statista estimates that 15 per cent of esports viewers are women; Esports Ad Bureau puts that number at a much higher 39 per cent.
Overwatch League's viewership breakdown is not available, but the player base for the game is much more gender-diverse than its team shooter counterparts. Quantric Foundry estimates that 16 per cent of Overwatch players are female, whereas their analysis of shooter game demographics in general (including Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, and so on) found that only four per cent of players are women. In other words, chicks dig Overwatch.
That could explain why Geguri's posts have seen a groundswell of support from fans online, especially female fans. I can't prove that this groundswell didn't happen for Geguri's predecessors, but if it did, I never saw it, and I've been fanning out over esports' exceedingly rare female pros since Seo "ToSsGirL" Ji Soo first made waves in the StarCraft scene in the early 2000s.
This Tumblr translation of Geguri's tweet with her apology about her looks, tagged with "honey no" and "what are these lies", got thousands of reblogs and faves, including responses such as "I will fight everyone who thinks geguri is ugly," or this far more impassioned defence: "HER JOB IS NOT TO LOOK GOOD IN GAME HER JOB IS TO PERFORM WELL AND THAT'S THE ONLY THING SHE SHOULD HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT!!!!! FUCK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Although Geguri may be facing external and internal pressure about her looks, fans should feel reassured that at least she isn't facing it from her coach. In response to yesterday's tweet, Shanghai Dragons' coach posted, "Wanna get some rice cakes?" Geguri replied, "We really eat too much, we can't. Go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow." He responded: "There is no tomorrow." Carpe diem, Geguri. Eat the rice cakes if you wish.