Welcome to the first article of our Women in Esports series, where we explore female representation within esports. It’s no secret that women are severely under-represented within esports. In particular, League of Legends’ major leagues do not have a single female player. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t skilled high-elo female talent. In fact, smaller leagues such as the European Regional Leagues (ERL) have female players playing together with largely male-dominated teams.
We wanted to find out why this was the case, so we reached out to a few female League of Legends players to get their thoughts on this topic. We got the opportunity to talk to Mareike “Sayna” Burg, a twenty-two year old German bot laner in the Prime League 1st and 2nd division.
As one of the only female bot laners to make it to the Prime League’s first division, Sayna is defying traditional esports standards. At 22 years old, she’s a computer science student and a strong believer that ketchup is the only sauce to be put on pasta. Along with that, she’s also a strong advocate for women empowerment in esports. Check out our interview below to learn more about her journey in esports.
What made you want to become a professional League of Legends player?
“I played [in a] ton of small tournaments and wanted to win there, [so] I started to improve. But most of my motivation comes from the bootcamps or offline events I attended. [They] were super awesome events, and [I] always [want] to come back [again].”
How did you start your career in LoL Esports?
“I heard that someone at my university organized a team for the university league, so I applied for that. Then we also played some small tournaments in this team and it was super motivating for me when we won our first small RP [prizes]. So the next step was to play [in] bigger leagues, and at some point I decided to also join other teams.”
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in LoL Esports?
“So far my summer split in the Prime League 1st division (not the pro division) was really awesome, every single game got casted and it felt super professional to play there. You knew every single death [was] gonna be watched, so each action counted.”
Do you have any suggestions for women who want to get into esports?
“Look out for people you trust and have fun playing with, then start playing as a team. The first thing you should work on is your mindset, try to improve constantly. I don’t think it matters what team or league you start [in], just keep on working on your own mistakes, then you will be able to reach the next level.”
Do you look up to someone? If so, who?
“Not really, I followed the few women in esports, players like Scarlett from StarCraft 2 or Sjokz from the League broadcast, but theres no one that I would call my idol.”
How did you come up with your in-game name, “Sayna”?
“I made my first gaming name when I was very young, [so] it was kinda weird, [and] I decided to make a new one at some point. I experimented with some letters and looked [at] how it sounded and if it was available in the client at that time. I wanted something that’s not super obvious[ly] female, but i liked the ending of “a” and that it was kinda short, [and] wasn’t used elsewhere.”
There isn’t a single female player in the LEC, LCS, LPL, or LCK. Why do you think this is the case?
“I would say multiple problems lead to that, the biggest reason is the way our society works and how girls grow up. It got better in the last [few] years, but a lot of our personality gets defined when we are very young. It starts [with] less girls playing computer games than boys at the same age, but the even bigger problem is also how they play the games. Manliness is an important part here, if two boys are playing against each other in their first computer game, it’s all about who is winning, whereas when two girls are playing its about cooperation and having fun together, at least thats what the society tell them. That’s an even bigger problem when the kids get older, it could be [considered] really shameful for a male teenager to lose against a girl in a video game, so he would sit down and practise the next day. If the girl lost she could just laugh and move on. But even if you came to the point to ignore all that and want to try hard, you would try to look for other female League players. But all you would find are the stories of teams who played in leagues where they didn’t belong and got meme’d by the community. That gives you little reason to believe you can make it, especially when there is also a small minority who say you can’t build a team with young men and women, because they cant handle [the] social interaction.”
All-female esports teams, such as Cloud9’s Valorant team, C9 White, do exist. Do you think this is an effective solution to incorporate women in esports? Why do you think these teams don’t exist in the major League of Legends professional leagues?
“I think the basic idea of those teams is really good, they enable women to get competitive experience at a level they couldn’t get otherwise. But they should be a transition state to mixed teams, it doesn’t make sense to get all-female teams to the major leagues. I have met a ton of good male players, who had no problem play[ing] with female players, so there’s no reason that a team should limit itself to the smaller female player pool. I see all-female teams as a tool to get experience and self-confidence to the players, so they are able to play in mixed teams afterwards. For me, it’s kinda sad when female teams and player only limit themselves to all-female tournaments, because yeah, it’s nice to win there and its a good starting point, but you don’t want [to] win the small side tournament, you want to win the big main tournament and that’s always gonna be the mixed/male one.”
Is there anything else you would like to add, or any messages to the fans and aspiring players?
“I really hope that esports can evolve and get to a state where everyone can compete and enjoy the competitive spirit, no matter the[ir] gender, skin color or anything else.”
Stay tuned for more articles and interviews in our Women in Esports series, as we continue to explore female representation across different esports scenes. A special thanks to Sayna for providing her thoughts on the subject.