SINGAPORE: A marketing executive by day, female gamer Calyn Koh heads straight for her home computer after work.
By night, the 24-year-old takes on a different persona, this time as a cyber-warrior on the online multi-player game Overwatch. She spends about four hours on weekday nights playing the game, and even longer on weekends.
“I started playing computer and video games when I was seven and the first first-person-shooter (FPS) games I played were Soldier of Fortune and Counter-Strike,” she said.
Having faced negative experiences in other multiplayer FPS games, she soon found her niche in Overwatch. “I used to be extremely active on Team Fortress 2, but the community was slowly changing, there were more and more trolls in the games and it started feeling like the developers stopped caring about it,” said Ms Koh.
“I tried Overwatch during the Open Beta days, and I have been a convert ever since. In general, I like FPS games because I find the gameplay immersive, engaging and challenging. The learning curve is relatively low, but to be good at it is a whole other feat,” she added.
FEMALE GAMERS INCREASINGLY COMMON
As a female gamer who started off watching her brother play games like Maplestory and Gunbound, 21-year-old Bianca Lai started dabbling in e-gaming during her primary school years.
Just like Ms Koh, Ms Lai has noticed increasing female involvement in the computer game community in the past few years. “Gamer girls are more common now than it was years ago, definitely,” said the full-time tertiary student.
“I believe the stereotype that only guys can play online games isn't as widely believed now. As a result, more girls are willing to try their hand at e-gaming without the fear of getting mocked.
“In fact, one of my friends is in an all-female Overwatch competitive team,” added Ms Lai, who spends about two to six hours daily on multi-player games such as DOTA 2.
“Female gamers have been around for a while, with girls-only tournaments happening as early as the late 2000s,” said Singapore Cybersports and Online Gaming Association chairman Nicholas Khoo.
“Perhaps two high points were when China’s Team LGD acquired an all-female team and when streaming became a lot more popular in the last few years.”
LIVE STREAMING OPENS UP OPPORTUNITIES
Having set up one of Singapore’s pioneering all-female DOTA teams about 10 years ago, Team Asterisk co-founder Tammy Tang believes the advent of live streaming has led to more attention being paid to female gamers.
"They have always been glamorised. Even back in the early 2000s, there was huge support for female teams and female-only competitions,” she said.
The popularity of live-streaming applications like Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live has also provided a platform for gamers - both male and female - to leverage on their success and personality to attract followers and page views.
Such gamers can then monetise their popularity through ad revenue, paid subscriptions and sponsorships.
Whether it is to boost their popularity or simply to display their skills in a particular game, Ms Tang believes there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to female gamers and live streaming.
"I don't think (popularity and competency) are mutually exclusive, but I do think that there are girls who play because 'everyone else is doing it' versus those who want to be the best.
“Streaming and social media also show that there's a different angle to gaming, and more routes to pursue other than just aiming to be a professional gamer,” said Ms Tang, a well-known DOTA player.
Elicia Lee, the founder of gaming convention GameStart Asia, said some female gamers monetise their celebrity status much like social media influencers. “There are definitely gamers who are more like influencers rather that good gamers,” said Ms Lee, whose event later this month will feature major players in the e-gaming industry.
“Some gaming companies even hire influencers, who don’t really play the game, to market their products," said the 36-year-old, who has played World of Warcraft for nine years. "I think it’s down to culture and what the target market wants, but at the end of the day, gaming is still pretty much a male-oriented landscape.”
She added: “Nowadays, I definitely am seeing more and more legit girl gamers coming out into the open. I also foresee more females working in the gaming industry in different roles … even in game development, which was very much male-oriented in the past.”
A JOB, NOT A HOBBY
An avid gamer who started playing Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) 12 years ago, e-gaming is now a source of employment for Yeap Su Fern, who works for e-gaming company Garena as its partnerships manager.
The 27-year-old plays a number of games, including Counterstrike: GO and FIFA Online.
According to Ms Yeap, one of the main reasons she took to e-gaming in the early days was simply to find more like-minded people. “For me, it’s a good way to get to know people as sometimes I’d make in-game friends first and then after spending hours in that game, I’d meet them in a cafe or coffee shop and even address each other by our in-game name rather than real-life name,” she said.
“Online gaming is a social thing and that’s why they’re so addictive,” added Ms Yeap. “Sometimes it’s not just about playing the games alone but also spending time to get to know other people within the game.
“(Gaming) is a great way to meet people who do not judge you based on how much did you earn, or where did you work or even what you’re studying. It is a non-judgmental bubble where all these fellow gamers would come from different walks of life,” she said.
Overwatch player Ms Koh even has regular meet-ups with her gaming peers. “Many people think that gamers are introverts and have no social life but that is definitely not true, said the 24-year-old. “I have made so many new friends through online gaming - friends not only from Singapore, but all over the world. For example, we once had a video Skype call with seven of us all from different countries.
"Not only have some of us met in real life, most of us do so regularly. With my Overwatch buddies we have even had barbeque sessions and pizza nights. We also hang out at bars and coffee shops for ice-cold beers,” added Ms Koh.
Despite the general friendliness when they meet in-person, the 24-year-old has come across peers who have preconceived notions of female gamers being “introverted and not well-groomed”.
“I think the stereotypes definitely still exist. When I tell someone new whom I've just met that I'm a gamer, the response is usually that I do not look like one,” said Ms Koh.