When girls go gaming, the trolls soon follow

Actual Xbox Live messages received by a female gamer
Actual Xbox Live messages received by a female gamer. (Illustration by Yifan Wu/MEDILL)

By Yifan Wu

Ellen “DreamCrazzy” Elizabeth learned a lesson early in her life: Boys can be sore losers.

The professional “Call of Duty” player preferred a controller to a Barbie Doll at 3, after watching her 11-year-old brother, Chris, drive a “Mario Kart” on a Super Nintendo. Their living room, in Waukegan, Illinois, heated up when she started winning.

“He would get so angry, and then we started fighting,” Ellen said. “He got mad because I was better than he was, and I would lose to him on purpose to not hurt his feelings.”

As the competitive gaming industry grows in prize pools, collegiate scholarships and high-profile investments, female players are still fighting for their seats at the e-sports table. Their first-round opponent? Stereotyping and harassment.

In September, 2013, 21 years after the sibling showdown, Elizabeth led an all-female team to compete in a tournament at Atlanta. In the second round of the winners bracket, her team faced off against No.1 seed, compLexity. Before the match started, compLexity’s captain, Patrick “ACHES” Price, changed his in-game handle to “GIMME A SAMICH.”

Elizabeth laughed it off. Price would later become one of her closer friends in the community, and even donated $75 to her GoFundMe campaign after her mother passed away.

Still, her opponents often deploy the stereotypes that women are bad at video games and belong in the kitchen. But the trash talk would take an uglier turn if her team came on top, especially when it was an all-female squad.

“Something about losing to a girl – it messes with their self-esteem,” Elizabeth said. “It’s like a girl going to the NFL and whoop their a–.”

Both Elizabeth and one of her teammates, Selena “Selly” Martinez, say the atmosphere at competition brings immense pressure to perform well.

“When I first started and only teamed with guys for a while, there are times when our team lost and the scrutiny was placed on me,” Martinez said. “I didn’t even have a bad game, but I would be the scapegoat.”

The 22-year old from San Antonio, Texas, looked up to Elizabeth before the two teamed up to win the first season of the Female Pro League. Her defense strategy against harassment? “Putting in the time and getting it,” Martinez said. “It’s simple but hard work.”

Playing time is one of the main factors driving e-sports stereotype against women, according to a research by Rabindra Ratan, an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s department of media and information. Women dedicate much less time to playing as practice is vital to gaming skills improvement.

“If you control the amount of time they played, women played just as well as, if not better than, men,” Ratan said, referring to his study surveying approximately 20,000 people. “Gender doesn’t matter in video games. It shouldn’t matter for skills.”

Elizabeth said some female gamers prioritize looking feminine and gaining Twitter followers over improving their game play. The “Call of Duty” community refers to them as “e-girls.”

Despite having the best placing for a female competitor at a Major League Gaming event, Elizabeth has about 6,900 Twitter followers. Kelly “MrsViolence” Kelley, a female gamer who no longer plays competitively and focuses on building online following, has over 38,600 followers on her verified account.

“I try not to worry about them,” Martinez said with a chuckle. “I kind of admire them for the way they market themselves.”

Amanda Cote, a post-doctoral fellow at University of Michigan’s communication studies department, said e-girls reinforce stereotypes by playing up their sexuality and femininity.

Medill Reports made several attempts to contact prominent e-girls for comment, but no one replied.

Both Cote and Ratan cited the success of Riot Games, the developer of “League of Legends,” in fighting harassment throughs community reports filed by players who receive inappropriate comments.

“It invites the community to be in charge of their own future,” Cote said. “It punishes people for negative behaviors, and prioritizes your main players. It does not just prioritize the traditional white male audience.”

Actions like this might get Elizabeth and Martinez fewer sandwich orders.

Photo at top: Actual Xbox Live messages received by a female gamer. (Illustration by Yifan Wu/MEDILL)