The world of professional gaming is fascinating – particularly for Korean StarCraft, where top tier tournaments are packed events with international media coverage. Unfortunately, it’s also been an almost exclusively male-dominated domain – until now.
The Mary Sue reports that one of the top pro teams in the country, SlayerS (which was founded by one of the top grandmasters of the game, a fellow who goes by the name of BoxeR), handpicked Kim Shee-Yoon (Eve), for a spot on the incredibly competitive team. She’s the very first female pro on the scene and, of course, there’s some controversy behind her rankings, as well as the fact that she was picked – and I quote — “for her skills and looks.”
Here’s writer Becky Chambers’ reaction to that:
Now, my knee jerked as well when I read that, but let’s put this in perspective. In Korea, pro gamers fall somewhere in between athlete and rock star. They have to be good at their game, but it doesn’t hurt if they look good. This isn’t some kind of gaming Olympics we’re talking about, based purely on ability. It’s a spectator sport, yes, but it’s also a huge business. There isn’t a team out there who doesn’t put some effort into making sure they’ve got players who are easy on the eyes. Do an image search for “pro gamer Korea” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the beast and, in this case, it has nothing do to with gender.
Getting signed to a pro StarCraft team isn’t some sort of gladiatorial death-match in which only the surviving player gets rewarded. Teams choose players that they think will benefit them, and sometimes those benefits aren’t directly related to winning matches. Eve wasn’t chosen because she was the best; she was chosen to be a padawan. Eve is a project, taken in to be trained on the top level.
On one level, I certainly understand that this is a business, and hey, having good-looking competitors works for major televised matches (there are actually two cable TV channels in Korea dedicated to StarCraft coverage). But part of me will always cringe at the thought that somewhere, there could be a more skilled – and less traditionally attractive – woman playing her heart out and not getting any pro contracts. This goes for male players as well, but it still doesn’t sit well.
Still, this is a huge step for equality in pro gaming – and Korea does pro gaming on the highest plane. Congrats to Eve; may she turn into the best-darned StarCraft player of all time, and beat the pants off of the boys in the process.