New Delhi: Bengaluru-based Zerah Gonsalves, regarded by many as Lara Croft of the Indian gaming industry, was one of the country’s first women gamers who started her gaming journey as a Dota 2 player and later switched to professional eSports commentating.
Similarly, Pune-based Shagufta Iqbal has played for Global eSport, an international eSport organisation, and participated in competitions like Nvidia’s Gamers’ Connect. While playing Counter-Strike 1.6 and Dota 2 got her hooked to gaming, she has become proficient in first person shooter games like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Counter Strike: Go. Iqbal is also an avid streamer and has over 48k followers on YouTube.
Gaming is no longer a man’s domain. “There has been a definite uptick in the participation of women gamers in the form of cosplayers, shoutcasters and streamers in eSport events like Gamer Connect and DreamHack. While there are very few women eSport players, this can be a trend in the making,” says Anand Subramanya, director of product marketing, Dell India. A 2018 study by Dell, State of Gaming, based on input from gamers in 11 countries including India, reveals that more than 80% of gamers do not care about the gender of the rivals they are matched with online, while 52% of the respondents know a female friend who plays video games.
Though women gamers are making their presence felt in the Indian gaming industry, the journey has not been smooth for all. Besides reluctance of parents, many of whom still do not see gaming as a career, they also face stereotypes about women in gaming. “Lack of support from parents is what I feel is holding back a lot of young talented players since gaming is not really deemed as a career prospect yet. Also, women are stereotyped as non-gamers and when they do play games, people think it is for attention,” rues Iqbal.
Women live-streamers often get harassed or bullied. Also, many women gamers still shy away from coming to the forefront, points out Bengaluru-based Ibakodor K. Lynser who has participated in over 770 online tournament on Mobile Premier League. Mumbai-based Saloni Pawar, who has participated in CS: GO team tournaments with amateur teams and is a popular streamer on Twitch, agrees and points out that many male gamers are uncomfortable with female presence in a male dominant field like gaming and try to suppress them by using abusive language.
However, as far taking up gaming as a full-time career is concerned, both men and women gamers face the same challenges. “I think the major challenges that are faced by professional gamers in India is the lack of organizations that can hire players and provide salaries and structure for them to take it up as a full-time job. It does not matter if it’s a man or a women. It’s a hard field to work in if you can’t give it dedicated time and effort,” says Gonsalves. Iqbal, until recently, was working as senior software engineer at Capgemini, which she left to pursue full-time professional gaming. Lysner works as a full-time teacher and plays in her free time.
It was also one of the reasons why Gonsalves moved on to being a commentator as it allowed her to remain in the field that is close to her heart. She goes live on Hotstar everyday for ongoing leagues like the ESL India Premiership. “Going professional meant no high payments no structure of work or tournaments which is a risk I couldn’t take so I decided to look around the field and see what could be more sustainable in the long run. That’s how I got into commentating, shoutcasting, content creating and hosting gaming events,” she adds. Also, casting and analysing the game has taught her a lot about the way games are played and won.
Platforms like Twitch and YouTube have helped women gamers a great deal. Iqbal, who uses a system, running on Intel’s 8th gen Core i5 CPU with 16GB RAM and RTX 2060 GPU for gaming and streaming, says “online streaming has allowed me to reach other like-minded gamers who come to watch and interact with me. If they enjoy my work then they help me by supporting me with donations and subscriptions.”
Gonsalves believes YouTube and Twitch are great places for individual content creators to build their own identity. It allows them to make decent money but it also helps to have a sponsor as backup. Also donations from viewers are equally important and provide gamers financial support.