Women's Counter-Strike: Above the waterline

Reading time  ~13  mins

CS:GO esports has evolved over the years, with breaking viewership records, players’ transfers & organizations supporting youngsters with academy teams; hoping one day they’ll get a piece of the pie.

While the male players are getting all the exposure and attention from the fans. And although they receive the lion’s share of opportunities from tournament organizers, thanks of course to their high skill level and incredible performances, as they battle to become the best in the world. The male side of CS:GO has been creating some of the most beautiful stories in esports. The female scene has been crawling slowly but steadily. It’s there… but what do we really know about it?

As esports enthusiasts there’s no one better to help us understand the current state of female CS:GO esports other than Mounira "GooseBreeder" Dobie, a veteran who has been around for so many years achieving success after another. And Tilde "7licious" Byström, a force to reckon with who’s currently playing for NiP fe.

Is the CS:GO female scene “healthy”?

On the surface it might seem as if the female scene isn’t in its best shape. However, you’d be surprised that it's thriving harder than ever!

“From my POV, it's definitely better now than in the past. I think the newer players getting involved take the game more seriously… The space has felt refreshed with the influx of new talent.” - GooseBreeder.

Nevertheless, It is still small, regardless of the growth over the years without any echo outside the “female bubble”.

“It's getting bigger and that's good but it's still pretty small and I wish it will become bigger and also a bit more out of the "female bubble". - 7licious.

"The only issue of female esports is the amount of it", said Dosia, explaining there's a very low number of players thus low competition. Luckily that is changing since ESL introduced ESL impact featuring multiple regional league seasons & monthly cash cups which resulted in the stability of the scene now that teams have a better fixed schedule.

A promotional graphic for ESL Impact, All Women's CS:GO League, featuring the tagline #GGForAll A promotional graphic for ESL Impact, All Women's CS:GO League, featuring the tagline #GGForAll

“I think Dosia was spot on. With a lack of players, the chances of finding skilled opponents are a lot lower. I think ESL Impact has the right ideas to entice women to get involved. From what I stated earlier in regards to giving newer players the opportunity to compete, they also give women a voice.“ - GooseBreeder

The importance of consistency to develop the scene can't be ignored, and ESL's work has made other TO's take notice.

“ESL Impact gives the scene consistency and opportunity for new talent to develop. Of course, there were previous tournaments in the past but you didn't always know when tournaments would be." GooseBreeder explains. "With the leagues and tournaments being run on a set schedule and backed by a larger TO in ESL, orgs are more comfortable knowing what to expect and I think it's a major factor in why orgs are more interested in investing.”

What’s holding the scene back?

Looking at the female scene from a distance you can only see more chances to improve it, grow it to become bigger and better. It might be a hard pill to swallow but the females lack exposure. Not only in the form of social media content, but a platform where the fans can catch up to the latest news & see the upcoming events and matches. Which begs the question as to why the females aren’t featured on the biggest CS:GO website HLTV.org? Being featured on HLTV would give the scene a huge boost; resulting in a growing fan base in addition to higher viewership rates.

“More initiatives like ESL impact, and to also have the games on HLTV, because that's the biggest website that gamers use everyday, a lot of people miss games because they are not featured on HLTV.” - 7licious.

It's undeniable that there aren’t many female players. Creating a massive skill gap where the big teams usually dominate, therefore making the scene less attractive to newer players.

“One big problem is that it's less women that play cs than men, also there are less opportunities and less tournaments.” - 7licious.

Another hit for the scene was Covid-19 and the rise of a new competitive shooter game. Since the start, Valorant gave females a better chance at competing with their all female league, Game Changers. Resulting in players switching games for more opportunity.

Tilde "7licious" Byström walks down a city street in a green blazer in a promotional image for her team, Ninjas in Pyjamas one of the organizations who field a female CS:GO roster Tilde "7licious" Byström walks down a city street in a green blazer in a promotional image for her team, Ninjas in Pyjamas one of the organizations who field a female CS:GO roster

Source: NiP

“When VALORANT was first announced its support of Game Changers, CS had very little backing for the women's scene. I also think people blow up a bit more as streamers and people who didn't really have much going for them in CS could take a chance to see where their careers would go in VAL..” - GooseBreeder

But GooseBreeder acknowledges there are other contributing factors, despite the lack of support from Valve. “I think it (Covid-19) was a big hit to the scene in EU and NA (other regions are hard for me to touch on)." She said. "EU typically had more to offer in terms of all-female tournaments and opportunities so NA took a hit because we lost the few teams we had. CLG Red was the last consistent team standing for the most part."

Why wasn't she tempted by the opportunity to switch herself?

"I think that women should be playing mixed CS that's what kept me around; it is my main ambition to one day make it to ECL.. During COVID, VALORANT was insanely attractive since it had a booming scene with lots of initiatives at a time when CS didn't have much opportunity. With that being said I think that the women's initiative is a big motivator to many and has had proven results since announcing. NA has a lot more teams that are sticking together than in the past.” - GooseBreeder

Riot had planned everything for a smooth, perfect launch; considering competitive aspects opposite to Valve, and how they’re running CS:GO.

“I would absolutely say it's more opportunities in Valorant, there are more tournaments and more players, I also think Riot is working more to build the female scene than Valve.” - 7licious

The same point was made by Vilga (Team Captain for Nigma Galaxy) expressing how frustrating it is to have no big tournaments for the females opposite to Valorant.

ESL, The saviors of the female scene!

Thanks to ESL’s initiative, ESL Impact, the female scene received a ray of hope, helping in giving it a push forward.

“I'm super happy for the initiative by ESL, but I think this should just be a beginning and that more TO´s should absolutely join. We need more tournaments to grow.” - 7licious

It’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for ESL Impact more & more players would switch to Valorant soon rather than later. The structure of the circuit is extremely competitive on top of being more friendly to newer players & teams as they can test the water in the monthly cash cups and grind in the league seasons from there.

As a result, Organizations such as Astralis & Ninjas in Pyjamas have signed teams to compete in the current ESL Impact League Season 2.

"We want to push even further with our new team," says Anders Hørsholt - CEO of Astralis, "Our values are grounded in performing at our best and always developing, but also in embracing gaming at all levels, regardless of traditional distinctions."

The circuit has definitely made an impact on the scene. Viewership skyrocketed — peaking at over 110,000 viewers — during the last ESL Impact League Season 1.

“It's definitely a step in the right direction. But I don't think they should settle, let's continue to improve upon it." Said GooseBreeder. Going on to explain what improving on it would include; "shedding more light on the scene and its players, developing personalities in the scene, creating fun and serious content. Produce something for fans to connect to. Showcase the effort & dedication that teams put in. It could help people take women a bit more seriously (I think this is something easier to do in a LAN setting)."

And as a veteran, she has ideas about how it could be achieved, too.

"I've suggested in the past something you already see in some mixed tournaments, end-of-round or half-time analysis that includes comms from the team. I think this type of content is great because it will show the audience a side they otherwise wouldn't see." She said. "These are all things bigger orgs can do regardless of ESL initiative. Aside from that, more tournaments are always nice. Either way, I'm happy about the initiative from ESL and it's really refreshing seeing more women get involved and also take the game more seriously.”

“With ESL backing the scene I would like to see them in the future support more regions if possible, I don't know the logistics but it would be helpful” - GooseBreeder

Improving the scene

After knowing the main obstacles the female scene is suffering from, TOs, Orgs, Players and the community as a whole should stand and work together in fixing these issues.

For instance, The lack of exposure can be fixed by creating serious content around players & teams more often. Helping provide a more positive image and fixing some of the negative narratives people have. This includes a well structured content plan by tournament organizers to better promote the scene and their events in general.

Having a mixed tournament might sound like a wild idea, but having mixed tournaments will showcase the true capability of female teams. And CS:GO fans will surely be interested tin watching the games and following the results.

Scheduling might be a critical problem with male teams having packed calendars but it’s not impossible to make an event like this happen.

While considering ways of improving the scene has promise, there’s no denying the fact that it will take more than just ideas. But rather, funding; esports is a business like any other industry and it’s unlikely for people to invest in uncertainty.

Building community pillars

The players are the pillars, without them there will be no tournaments, no teams and no scene at all. Therefore, the main focus should be in attracting new players which according to 7licious, can be done by setting up more role models to inspire the next generation of players.

“Have more role models and invite more women into the scene. If that is as players, casters, managers, coaches, it doesn't matter.” - 7licious.

GooseBreeder shares the same opinion as she believes that having more role models will make the environment safer & better for women.

“I think showcasing women more and giving younger women role models is a great way to get more players involved. Everyone needs role models. I think for women who enter a potentially scary space having women to look up to gives them a push in the right direction. A goal of mine is always being the best I can be, but I also want to show women that they can do it by doing it myself. I want to prove to the world, not just women, that we- I am good enough. It's part of what's kept me fighting for all these years. I also think it helps to just expose people in general that women can exist in this space. Eventually, we can get to the point where women being in your game is a normal experience and not a unicorn. Ideally, this will help people behave more normally. I think when we get to that point other barriers will also drop to a degree.” - GooseBreeder

As they say, In order to change the world, start by changing yourself. In order to make the improvement noticeable all players need to step up and push their limits. If the males are better it’s for a reason and it’s not physical.

“I'm super happy to see more female teams play other tournaments than female only. Don't get me wrong, female tournaments are super important but it's also important to play the normal ones to learn and grow as a team so we can develop the scene and be able to play vs and with men. Cus there is nothing physically that stops us from doing that. We just need to work hard.” - 7licious.

With over 7 years of experience at the top level of female competitive esports and still grinding to achieve her dream, there is no one better than GooseBreeder to give the upcoming players the advice & steps they need to push their limits and truly improve the scene.

Her advice?

“Now that the scene has strong backing, patience is a big factor. Rome wasn't built in a day. Progressing the scene speaking to an individual perspective: Players, use your time effectively and push yourself as a competitor. How we spend our time is by far the most important thing to progressing quickly. Watch demos actively. Ask yourself why? Why did they do that on that timing? Try to understand what's going on. I would highly recommend watching the best teams on the map you're trying to learn or the best player in your role and watching them multiple times. This will make it a lot easier to understand when and why they react the way they do." - Goosebreeder

"Use the resources that are out there. Join a competitive team, put effort into scrims and develop yourself. When you practice, make it for a reason not to boost your ego. Set goals and apply yourself. Goals are huge, they're what keep you focused. If the goal is important enough to you it will push you through tough times, even if it feels like everything is against you. If you want something bad enough it will make a difference. Reach out to more experienced peers or friends. I've been trying to set a good example of what is expected and I've also made a discord to help women understand where to start and help to speed up the development of the scene.” - Goosebreeder

Feature Image: @DreamHack

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CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
Copyright © 2023 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.