It's no secret that a whole new generation of gamers is on the horizon, breaking the stigma that 'girls can't play video games.' Playing video games is not a sport that parents see as a positive for their teenage daughters, but it has many benefits.
According to a study on girls' video gaming behavior by Dr. Anesa Hosein, 13-14-year-old girls who are heavy gamers, defined at an average of nine hours per week, are three times more likely to pursue pSTEM [physical science, technology, engineering, and math] related degrees. This fact is especially true for girls who play multiplayer games. Here's the story of two gamers working to break down barriers for the next generation.
Cloud9 White, a professional all-women esports team, has dominated the North American Valorant scene for the last few years. Earning their fourth straight win in the recent 2022 Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) Game Changers series, Cloud 9 White has solidified themselves, once again, as THE team to beat.
Twenty-two-year-old computer science major Alexis "alexis" Guarrasi is integral to the team's success as the second in-game leader and Initiator in Valorant, a tactical first-person shooter game.
A self-proclaimed gamer since birth, Alexis attributes her love for gaming to her mother's influence. "We have sort of a different dynamic than I think most families do, where my mom was actually the one who was the gamer in my family." Her parents often encouraged Alexis and her brothers to game together from a young age and continued supporting her in her esports career.
In her research article, Video gaming as a digital media, play, and family routine: Implications for understanding video gaming and learning in family contexts, Dr. Elisabeth Gee, a professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, explains that "often parents don't understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy, and problem-solving."
When Alexis discovered Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a multiplayer first-person shooter, it was thanks to her brother who suggested she give it a try. "I was like, that looks stupid!" she laughed. However, Counter-Strike would become the game that would catapult her into the world of esports.
Alexis would spend the next couple of years grinding her way up the ranks of aspiring professional players. Her first real taste of success came when she joined Anew esports and began pocketing $300 a month. "We were like, this is amazing!" She added, "This is when I really felt like if I keep going like this, I would get somewhere," and she was right.
In June of 2020, Alexis would join MAJKL, a North American team formed by her best friend and team's in-game leader, Melanie "meL" Capone, and go on to win multiple tournaments. Soon after, Cloud9, a Tier 1 professional esports organization, came knocking and signed the entire 5-person MAJKL roster in October that same year.
Today, Alexis and her Cloud9 teammates are determined to go beyond competing in women-only tournaments. The team looks to make a run at the upcoming VCT qualifiers and make their move for the top spot across all Valorant pro players. "The ultimate goal with the team is to make as many strides as we possibly can in the co-ed scene," Alexis says, "we want men to make room within the space that they've dominated for so many years; it's not a girl versus guy thing, it's just skill."
30-year-old Staff Sergeant Haley "StayFrosty" Green has been involved with Air Force Gaming (AFG) since before it was officially launched in early 2020. "Air Force Gaming," she says, "was created out of a need to boost resiliency within the Air Force by connecting military men and women together through gaming and esports."
Thousands of amateur active duty gamers compete in intramural tournaments across games like Rocket League, Call of Duty, and League of Legends.
Haley's role within AFG is currently as program manager. In addition to gaming, she oversaw the creation of a team who began a Dungeons and Dragons section for AFG. "What can I say—I'm a BIG nerd!" she warned. Haley owes that to her parents, who engaged her in gaming early. "I don't think they imagined it would grow to what it has. They still think it's really awesome that I've found a hobby that I continue to this day."
Haley's military career so far consists of completing her Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement with interest in Cyber Security. Attributing her interest in a pSTEM career to gaming, Haley hopes to land an internship with Microsoft or Google upon completing her military service. "I want to be a part of innovative work, brainstorming ideas and creating products to make the world better."
In addition to program management, she's leading a new initiative as a base ambassador for Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where she creates esport safe spaces for anyone who wants to compete locally.
Alexis and Haley are just a few of the many women working to change the esports culture for the better. Although a gender disparity continues to exist across gaming, and the gender equity fight is far from over, the future for women in esports has never looked brighter.
Alexis advises young girls today not to limit themselves in any way. "If the young women coming up now do the things that we weren't able to do back then, they will be ahead of us in no time; they will be ahead of everybody!"