A Star And Her Craft

Ben McGrath has a long and fascinating profile of Sasha Hostyn, aka Scarlett, “the most accomplished woman in the young history of electronic sports,” namely Starcraft II:

Some context from McGrath:

“It’s not a sport,” John Skipper, the president of ESPN and, by extension, the emperor of contemporary sports, has declared, referring to gaming in general. “It’s a competition.” He added, “Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

That “mostly” was an acknowledgment that the network has nonetheless begun hedging its bet against a cyber-athlete insurgency. In July, ESPN2 aired a half-hour program previewing an annual tournament for a game called Defense of the Ancients 2, or Dota 2, thereby enraging football and basketball fans who would have preferred round-the-clock speculation about off-season roster moves, and who vented on Twitter: “None of these people are anywhere near athletic,” “Wtf man. This is our society now,” “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING ON ESPN2?,” and so on. Meanwhile, the winners of the Dota 2 tournament took home a total of five million dollars.

Back to Scarlet, and how her story touches on the themes of gamergate:

[A]s an academic Rob [Scarlet’s father] had been a longtime observer of online communities, with their anonymous sniping and trolling. He was one of the first few hundred people to create an account on the social-networking site Reddit, and still recalled the coarsening of the site’s tone as its user base expanded beyond programmer geeks. “I knew that small communities are pretty good, and big ones get toxic,” he said. … The toxicity of gaming culture, with its adolescent sexuality and its tendency toward misogyny, was of particular relevance in Scarlett’s case. Shortly after she turned pro, word got out on the Internet that she was a transgender woman.

(She won’t discuss the subject with journalists, as she feels that it has no bearing on her role in gaming.) That was in early April of 2012, about a year after she began playing the game casually, and about a month after a controversy arose in a coarser corner of the e-sports world, when a prominent Street Fighter personality named Aris Bakhtanians was asked by a Twitch employee, Jared Rea, whether the fighting-game community’s habits of using vulgar and, in some cases, hostile language toward women could be tamped down. As Rea put it, “Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?”

Bakhtanians replied, “You can’t, because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, fifteen or twenty years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting-game community it’s not the fighting-game community—it’s StarCraft.” …

In the rush to discover more about this new sensation, a few people noticed that the previous fall she’d entered—and won, easily—a couple of Iron Lady events, women-only tournaments organized online by the Electronic Sports League. No fair, some argued, apparently believing that StarCraft players, like sprinters, should be segregated by degrees of testosterone. The tournaments’ director, pHaRSiDE, wasn’t buying it. “Transgender girls have been competing in Iron Lady since the start of the tournament series,” he wrote. “No one seemed to care until Scarlett started winning. So it’s kinda funny how people only want to ban transgender girls who are incredibly good.”