Retired Chinese professional gamer Li Wei has been subject to discrimination and harassment in the male-dominated esports circuit.
Known as ViVi in the gaming community, Li has been less than welcome since she started in 2014 at 22 years old, and was usually the only woman competing even in international events, according to a South China Morning Post report.
The first time she was set to compete with a team where she was the only girl, Li was only allowed to play when she indicated that the rule book did not ban women.
Still, the discriminatory remarks stuck with her, particularly when an official at the World Cyber Arena in China told her team, “Nobody will fight a woman.” To which her teammate protested, “But she’s good.”
“She’s good-looking, you mean. She’ll turn this whole tournament into a joke,” said the official.
Despite leading her team to a win in that tournament—she competed in the “Crossfire” category—she left the gaming arena after a number of competitions because of the strong gender bias she experienced.
Li is now combatting gender discrimination on her own terms by setting up teams with both women and men under the ViVi name who compete on live streaming platforms.
Using her money from previous winnings and financial help from family and friends, she’s able to support the teams that consist of over 20 women and around a dozen men.
Meanwhile, funding is still a challenge through live streaming compared to professional gaming. However, her top players are able to receive fan sponsorship of up to tens of thousands of yuan in a month. (1 yuan is about P7.62.)
“A lot of the best players are young and attractive, so they quickly build up a large fan base,” Li said.
The esports industry is worth millions of dollars, and the highest paid player American Saahil Arora or UNiVeRsE makes $42,000 on average per win, amassing $2.83 million over his career.
Wheter online or off, women are subject to discrimination. On the internet, men tend to throw sexist remarks such as “go back to the kitchen” or saying they will lose because there’s a woman on their team, says Jenny Song in a Los Angeles Times report.
“Having a few skillful women players is not enough,” said Li. “We will not be ignored if we come in numbers.” Niña V. Guno/KI