Despite intense opposition from officials and an unrelenting barrage of sexual harassment, Chinese gamer Li Wei made a name for herself as the first female eSports player to compete in China’s World Cyber Arena in 2014.
When Li Wei–professional name ViVi–first showed up with her team, tournament organizers attempted to discriminate against her based on her gender.
One of the officials even claimed, “Nobody will fight a woman,” attempting to bar her from the event. Li’s teammate countered: “But she’s good.” Their team had earned a spot in the prestigious gaming contest after all.
The official continued by trying to claim that Li’s presence and appearance would somehow undermine the tournament, claiming “She’s good looking, you mean. She’ll turn this whole tournament into a joke.”
Li’s superior knowledge of the game’s rulebook–which lacked any grounds for her dismissal–exceeded that of the sexist judge’s, and she was able to stand her ground and compete.
Li gained huge notoriety in the tournament for her excellent marksmanship skills in the game Crossfire. Her contributions to her team’s victory against skilled Japanese opponents made her a fan favorite.
She recalls that shaking hands with one of the Japanese rivals she had repeatedly clashed with and bested in the match made her feel accepted in an often hostile environment.
Eventually, Li made the difficult choice to retire from professional gaming, saying “I competed in several other tournaments after the WCA, but I always felt there was a bias against women.”
Her claims are corroborated by many of her fellow female gamers. Tang “Eloise” Haiyun, also from China, stated “As a woman, my gaming skills are never the focus of people’s attention. To them, hating a female player is much easier than hating a male player.”
Canadian player Stephanie Harvey, despite being a five-time world champion Counter-Strike player, admitted in an interview with BBC that even after proving herself, “The way I get harassed is about what they would do to my body, about why I don’t deserve to be there because I use my sexuality – it’s all extremely graphic.”
Li might no longer compete, but she certainly hasn’t left the world of gaming. Instead, she has hopes of becoming a pro gaming manager and owner, who aims to empower as many women as possible.
Using her winnings from her pro gaming days, she has financed a new initiative, where she oversees several professional teams comprised of both men and women under the Vivi name, making sure to recruit as many women as she can.
Of her plans for change, Li declared: “Having a few skillful women players is not enough,” she said. “We will not be ignored if we come in numbers.”