Is eSports a man’s world? We interview Team Property – the all-female Swedish pro gaming CSGO team

Team Property interview
Left to right: Johanna “R’o’vardotter” Virtanen, Angel “Mouse” Malihiolzakerni, Therese “Szanto” Szanto, Nina “Foxglove” Flatnes and Sandra “Steelya” Stålnacke

On Intel’s stand at Dreamhack London this weekend, there were two teams of five women going head-to-head on CSGO – LGB and Team Property – with scores of men queuing up to play them get beaten by them.
We sat down with the five Swedish girls from Team Property – who have just signed Nina “Foxglove” Flatnes to their roster – to discuss closing the skill gap between male and female pro gamers, dealing with online harassment and getting more women into eSports.

Meet the team: Team Property roster

Angel “Mouse” Malihiolzakerni
Sandra “Steelya” Stålnacke
Nina “Foxglove” Flatnes
Johanna “R’o’vardotter” Virtanen
Therese “Szanto” Szanto

What are your major achievements so far since forming in February 2015, and what are your longer term aims and ambitions? 

Mouse: We don’t have any special achievements like that [yet]. We have been playing at pretty much all the Dreamhack Opens this year (except the one in Bucharest) and some female leagues online.

Foxglove: We haven’t really got started yet though, cos they have had four players for a while now, and now finally the line-up is complete, so we’re gonna kick-start our practicing and we’re gonna join a lot of leagues, and hopefully next year is going to be big for us.

Mouse: Yeah, exactly. We have done things before when we were five and then some changes were made. So we haven’t really done anything with this line-up.

Szanto: But there’s no female tournament left this year. It’s like Copenhagen Games and ESWC, these two events. And ESL. But that’s it.

“In my old team, we used a fake nickname – we’d only get a good practice if we pretended to be guys online. Or else we’d receive a lot of spam messages from trolls, like: “Show your boobs. Go back to the kitchen.”

What do you think of the rise of all-female esports teams, like CLG Red, LGB, Epsilon esports and yourselves? How is that impacting on eSports? 

Mouse: I think it’s actually been growing a lot, because this year ESWC in France is going to have a female-only tournament in League of Legends. And that has never come to Europe before – not as a big tournament anyway. There have been small ones but not so much.

I also think that … a lot of people don’t like it when it’s female-only.

Foxglove: I think it’s a good thing, we are in such a minority. More girls will be encouraged to play.

Szanto: I would say 80 per cent of all Counter-Strike players are male. With the female players, I can just see from when I started ten years ago, it was so hard to find any female gamers. And I wanted to play with them – I was looking for years back then! Now they are popping out from nowhere, there are so many of them now.

Mouse: I also think it’s easier now to be seen. I played Counter-Strike for five years before I even met a girl online.

Foxglove: It’s good because they are pushing on with the female tournaments and stuff, because it’s really going to win more girls into eSports and we need that. It’s a really male-dominated scene.

Mouse: We’re really looking forward to the first top mixed team. I think it will be soon because the girls are getting…

Foxglove: Tired of each other! (laughs)

Mouse: No, they’re getting better and I think it’s about time soon.

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You guys take part in female-only and mixed tournaments, is that correct?

Szanto: We placed fourth in the Dreamhack Tours tournament in Paris. We don’t call it mixed – we call it a main tournament because everyone can enter.

Foxglove: It’s usually where there are bring your own computer (BYOC) tournaments we can go and play, and we have actually done quite well in the BYOCs. My team came third place in Dreamhack Summer 2014. There should be more of that.

We have Insomnia Multiplay here in the UK – have you played there?

Mouse: I’ve been so many times back in Counter-Strike Source. Back in Source we did not have any female tournaments or events, nothing like that. We played against the guys, so we would go to i-Series in England and play against the guys. And then GO got released and it was like: “Oh! Look at all these girls!”

Foxglove: 1.6 was bigger so there were more female players to find than in Source. But now that CSGO is out, both Source players and 1.6 players can play together now, because there’s one game to play – instead of 1.6 or Source.

Have you had to deal with any discrimination or online abuse, being all-female, or is that not the case? 

Mouse: It was worse before.

Foxglove: I was in a Swedish magazine. They asked me if that’s normal and stuff, and I said: “It was worse before.” I think it’s getting a lot better.

Szanto: I think it’s getting more and more accepted

Foxglove: You are getting more girls into the community. Before, it was horrible and the comments were like: “Oh my God – a girl who’s playing…” It was so weird to see it.

It’s gotten a lot better now. It’s good. Before, my team who used to play before, we used a fake nickname when we would go to practice, because if we had a real nickname and they knew we were girls, they would not practice seriously against us. We would only get a good practice if we pretended to be guys online. Or else there’s just a lot of spam like: “Show your boobs. Go back to the kitchen.” And they’re just trolling.

I’m guessing that’s mainly keyboard warriors – you don’t get those kind of comments in person?

Szanto: No, face to face, we’re their Gods! It’s unbelievable. It’s so funny because online, before, I never had a Steam picture of myself because it would just be trolling everywhere.

Do you still get that?

Foxglove: Only a little bit, but not often. Only from the really bad guys.

Mouse: It also depends. If you don’t want to get fame, and you don’t want to be seen that much, some girls always talk into the microphone and are being rude back to them. But it is what you make out of it, really.

Szanto: I never talk into the microphone when I play.

Mouse: I never. I hold my hand on the microphone so my voice is like dark and I’m like *mumbles* (laughs). I don’t them to know – I don’t want to ruin the situation, pretty much. For example, all my World of Warcraft characters, regardless of whether they’re male or female, they always have boy names. Felix, Simon, whatever. I have never named them girly names because then it makes it so obvious!

Did you play that professionally?

Mouse: No I didn’t – I wish. Unfortunately there is no PVP scene in Europe, it’s totally dead. But in America it is.

Foxglove: (puts on a voice) ‘Merica!

In football, it’s fair to say that the women’s teams aren’t quite on the same standard as men’s yet – as a whole. it’s improving and through things like the women’s World Cup its getting more awareness too. Would you say it’s also the case in eSports?

Foxglove: As soon as they host more tournaments where we’re able to play against the guys, I think we’re going to improve a lot. Because right now we’re just playing competitive against the female scene and we don’t really get that challenge – you need to play against better players to get better yourself.

I think as soon as it’s more normal to play against them, then we can practice against them and we’ll also end up on that level. But right now it’s a bit hard because we only practice against each other and not the good male teams.

It’s a glass ceiling, right? It seems to be a bit of a barrier…

Foxglove: Exactly. And of course, now they just started with the mixed tournaments online – and we are getting a bit ‘raped’. But that’s normal because it’s so new for us, we never played them before. When they play against each other they know exactly how they play and it’s very different.

Females and males – they don’t play the same. We’re really defensive and they’re really aggressive.

Once we play them more, we can take more from their game style and adapt more. It’s going to be rough at the start, I think.

Mouse: Some female teams choose to never play or practice against male teams. We never practiced against female teams before Foxglove joined. We did it maybe once.

Szanto: We did it in the beginning in February, before the Copenhagen games.

Mouse: I think the reason more female teams don’t participate in BYOCs or Dreamhack or whatever, it’s because there’s not enough support. Everyone cant afford to go here.

Foxglove: I think all the female teams would like to participate in the BYOC tournaments but there’s just not the support from the sponsors to do it.

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“Females and males – they don’t play the same. We’re really defensive and they’re really aggressive.”

Do any of you play any other games like League of Legends?

Szanto: We play to relax and have fun. I play Hearthstone and just quit World of Warcraft. The new expansion was… bluergh. Also, Battlefield 4.

Foxglove: I played a lot of Dota now I stopped and moved onto Battlefield and stopped. It’s a lot of older games, then you play for a while, then you move onto the next game and get pwned!

Mouse: I played in a female League of Legends team, we used to play in the ESL leagues and it was really fun, but I don’t know, I’m actually the same. When I play World of Warcraft, I get super addicted then two months later I wonder why I’m sitting here. I’m like: “I want to play Counter-Strike!”

The team I was playing with, ESWC was coming up and I thought: “I can’t let this go, it’s the only thing I think about every day.” So even if I went pro in League of Legends with female teams, I would still think about going back to Counter-Strike. All the time.

Foxglove: It doesn’t matter what game I play – I will always come back to Counter-Strike.

How do you think the industry has moved on since the all-girl gaming group Fragdolls? 

Szanto: I think they’re still going in the US. They focus more on streaming, and we focus on competitive playing, so they stream and play for fun, and it’s about the viewers, but for us we play to win. And they play to entertain. That’s the difference. I think the streaming is actually kicking off more in the female scene. There are more female streamers now.

Mouse: Fortunately if you take the top female streamers, maybe one out of five or two out of ten play competitive, or is even good.

Szanto: They play to entertain, they don’t play to win or compete.

Mouse: There are so many people who say: “I wish there was a girl who was global and can play, and is almost better than me”. But if you scroll down a bit, and check who has between one and 20 viewers, you will find maybe ten of them, but they’re not in the top and they don’t get noticed.

You’re sponsored by Intel who I know are doing a few initiatives to increase the number of women in tech.  How important is it to help grow the number of women and girls in tech and eSports, and to help increase awareness around women in eSports?

Mouse: First of all, they took third place (Foxglove’s old team). Why isn’t anyone writing about that? People are always saying: “Girls are not good enough so they cannot compete.” When some people say to me, why are female or male teams not playing against each other or with each other, then they’re comparing us to Fnatic or whatever, I’m like: “How can you even do that, it’s not realistic?” You can’t do it.

But as soon as we try, we’re playing in leagues where we’re the only female team. And if we lose, it doesn’t matter, you either get flamed or no one pays attention. And that’s why no one cares [about female eSports compared to male teams], pretty much.

Foxglove: They will only be interested if the results are good, otherwise they don’t care.

Mouse: If you check Dreamhack Tours – BYOC – how many female teams were there? Us and LGB. How many teams got top five? One female team. How many teams were in the main BYOC that got top five? It’s not normal to see a full-female team in the top five in any tournament which isn’t female-only, to be honest, so why was this not highlighted? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Mouse: We have GoFemale and Fesports, and they didn’t write anything either. So we were really shocked. They’re highlighting stuff like: “Look at this girl streaming.” And I’m like: “Please, I just got fourth place on a LAN. Can you just tell everyone?”

People do care, when they see it they’re like: “Wow, okay.”

Foxglove: Maybe they’re just focusing on the female scene. Maybe they don’t bother with the main tournaments, but they should.

Mouse: When we formed Team Property, not even Fragbyte published it. I was really shocked, to be honest.

Steelya: We got a few posts on Reddit though. Reddit went crazy.

Mouse: If they write on Fragbytes about ESWC, there’s like 98 per cent flames and “GL HF”, but it’s because they know someone who is going there, or whatever.

I think the small sites like Fragbyte and HLTV, they should highlight it more. Way more. The good stuff. They don’t need to highlight things like: “They just started streaming – look at this.” No one gives a shit.

Szanto: One thing that could really [improve awareness] is if the CSGO Lounge would have our show matches here today, and the players could bet on the teams and stuff. Then the viewers really need to look us up and check our results. And I think that’s a huge step, if that would happen. eSports betting is very big right now.

Mouse: They would need to check our streams to see if they would bet on us. But I don’t even know how they would manage to achieve that because the CSGO Lounge admin also posted on Reddit and his opinion made no sense. We’re not good enough to play against NIP or Fnatic – again this unrealistic comparison – but then they have a world championship with bots that you can bet on.

They have show matches… It doesn’t make sense that female teams aren’t good enough to bet on or to be shown on a CSGO Lounge game, but you can put on a totally no-namer team, no-namer league or players, no-namer cup or tournament or LAN, and you can still bet on it. But girls that have huge names, for example Team Property or LGB or CLG Red, Epsilon, they can’t bet on us. But you can bet on bot world championships, or the cows versus the sheeps… I don’t know.

No one knows who it is but you can still bet on it – it doesn’t make any sense to be honest.

DSC_0377

“It doesn’t make sense that female teams aren’t good enough to be shown on a CSGO Lounge game, but a bot game, or a no-namer team, no-namer league or players are.”

Do you have any words of encouragement for girls in the UK getting into eSports/CSGO?

Foxglove: There used to be a lot from the UK and they kind of stopped. And now there’s a handful.

Mouse: It’s the same in Sweden to be honest. The good ones stopped when Counter-Strike 1.6 died and now there’s just us left.

Foxglove: We have a really big female Counter-Strike community now. And we should encourage them to play more, and they should not be scared of playing just because they might get flamed by guys. I know many stop playing once they get flamed, because it’s not fun to sit there and get a shit-ton of abuse thrown at you.

Mouse: Some girls don’t care, but some do – a lot. I just hope they won’t take it personally when they get flamed to be honest, because it happens pretty much everywhere. You kind of have to get used to it, it sounds really bad, but you have to.

Foxglove: They just need to ignore it and keep on playing.

R’o’vardotter: And work hard.

Mouse: Just find someone to play with – it doesn’t matter if they’re girls or boys. Just play. Do whatever you want with it. Have fun.

Foxglove: If you have fun, then just play.

DSC_0370

“We should encourage girls to play more, and they should not be scared of playing just because they might get flamed by guys. Many stop playing once they get flamed, because it’s not fun to sit there and get a shit-ton of abuse thrown at you.”

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