Girl Gaming and South African Esports – where to from here?

Last night saw the final of Season 2 of the Valkyrie League take place. Leetpro beat Bravado Gaming to win the season. In Season 1 the score line was swapped around with Bravado taking the honours. A bit of history for you: The Valkyrie League is an all female CSGO league hosted by Mettlestate. If you’ve read my blog often you’re familiar with Valkyrie. I’ve written about it enough, but lets have a quick recap.

In 2017 I wanted to encourage more girls to play games. I hosted a gaming night at the Nexus in Randburg that had an incredible turn out and support. That event bred the idea for the Valkyrie Challenge, which would be a once off show match between two all female CSGO teams to highlight competitive female esports players in South Africa. My hope was that the mainstream media attention the show match would garner would then feed the scene to encourage more ladies to play. The ultimate goal, though many didn’t know, was to try get an invitational spot to an Intel Challenge event. I spoke to Evetech and Mettlestate about the “big idea” and they agreed to support it and make it a reality. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get that international spot.

The idea behind the international spot was that if we had a female team going, the best CS players and coaches locally would hopefully rally to help them. A competitive showing from an all female team overseas would draw eyes to South African esports as a whole and benefit the community. Got it? Okay good, you’re up to speed. I’ve written a stack about Valkyrie so if you need more background this archive is a good place to start:

The #ValkyrieZA archive

The Valkyrie League is born

Photo courtesy of Bravado Gaming

The show match was, for all intents and purposes, a success. We had a full venue of supporters, incredible support on stream and, most importantly, we had an outpouring of support to girl gamers in South Africa – especially those looking to go pro. Come 2018 The Valkyrie League, an all female CSGO league, was announced. Despite the public commentary I actually wasn’t involved in this. ASUS had reached out to Mettlestate who then facilitated it. Mettlestate set the ball rolling and did reach out to me and asked me to help by hosting a few of the weekly competitions which I happily did. While I had some misgivings about an all female league, I believed, in the short term, this was actually a really good idea. I’ve also flogged this horse to death so if you want my thoughts on all female esports leagues you can read this blog post, which sums it up pretty well. The league kicked off and I’ve followed it closely ever since. But more as a spectator than anything else because I’ve had to travel extensively this year with my other esports commitments.

Two seasons in

Photo courtesy of Leetpro Esports

Despite it not necessarily being “my” baby the Valkyrie League’s season 1 was the toddler of the original concept. Season 2 could arguably be a self sufficient 9 year old with a bit of cheeky attitude. Here’s why: Season 1 saw 9 teams enter and there was definitely a big chasm between the top 3 and the other teams. The skill gap was large. However, moving into season 2 we saw a change. For starters 14 teams competed in the regular season. That’s 70 ladies competing. The games were also far more evenly contested. While the top 4 teams had strong regular seasons most teams performed well and were evenly matched throughout. New names popped up and I was riveted at how the level of gameplay had improved across the board:

Picture courtesy of Mettlestate. Scores can be found at www.mettlestate.com

I think we need to applaud Mettlestate for creating an ecosystem where new names felt comfortable to compete, improve and play well. The broadcasts were well supported (if we hold them to South African standards) every week and there is clearly a core audience of esports fans that have an interest in these teams and players.

Core audience base and interest + good game play = decent ROI

Decent ROI means happy sponsors which means more esports investment. Got you still? Good. We’ve also seen an influx in support for these female teams from other brands as well. Many endemic names are picking up female players and teams. LANs and expos are no longer just men in esports shirts, there are now women as well. There were always women playing and competing, don’t get me wrong, but I do think Valkyrie League has allowed for more support of these ladies.

The next step

Photo courtesy of Aperture Gaming

The level of participation has increased, the level of gameplay has improved but what is the next step? I’d like to see us shift focus now. A lot of the mixed teams felt frustrated by an all female league and the prize pool it garnered. Rightfully so. In 2017 the higher level teams in South African esports (not just CS) were promised a boom. Brands and tournament organisers promised giant cash pools, fancy LANs and a host of other things come 2018. The truth is, hardly any delivered on these promises. For comparison: 2017 had 4 6 figure tournaments for CS announced, 3 took place. 2018 had one. Competitive players are understandably frustrated that the dream that was painted for them never materialised. Frustrated more so that, at one point, the only competitive league running outside of VS was Valkyrie.

I think the next step for the South African esports scene, as a whole, is to shake it up. The ladies are there and they’ve proven they can hold their own. I’d like to see us host one more season of Valkyrie in 2018 and then shift the support of females in esports to coaching and team building support. Create small coaching set ups that allow new female teams to play each other every week in a “safe” environment but not necessarily a closed league for money. Encourage mixed teams to jump in and train with them in these games. Allow new casters to cast the scrims to improve their work… see what I’m setting up here?

Photo courtesy of White Rabbit Amaryllis

The top teams in season 1 and 2 of Valkyrie have now proved they have an audience base – let sponsors invest in creating content for this audience around the teams and players while also investing on improving their game play with proper coaching and support to travel to events and have the necessary equipment, internet connection etc to compete in mixed team tournaments.

I’d like to see some of the female stars that have been born out of Valkyrie picked up by mixed teams. There’s enough of them to scoop up. Ideally that means shifting sponsorship to mixed league events. Which means we need more mixed league events. It is a gamble for brands. They know the all female league “worked”, but now you know you have teams with an audience and the support – that audience and support follows their team, no matter the competition they’re in.

The foundation is there, now we need to build the house. I’ve watched so many of the ladies competing in Valkyrie grow in the last year into voices and role models in the South African esports community. I’ve seen them kick ass in game. It has made me so proud while also feeling somewhat disconnected – being overseas made me feel “far”. But watching every week and becoming invested in each of them as players and personalities has been the most incredible adventure. Every single player from season 1 and season 2 needs to give themselves a pat on the back as they built something special.

The foundation has been laid, now let’s get a castle up.

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