The crowd at ESL One New York this year reflected the diversity that permeates Brooklyn. There were gamers from all backgrounds—Black, white, Asian, Latino and more—whose excitement illuminated Barclays Center the entire weekend. Yet the tournament was predominately male with a sprinkling of women throughout the arena.
Fuse spoke to a few of them during the first half of the Street Fighter V event to get their thoughts on how to include more female faces in ESL One's future. We first ran into Michaela and Kirsten Conti, sisters who were the only cosplayers at the tournament. Hailing from Yonkers, N.Y., Michaela cosplayed as SFV character Juri and Kirsten as Decapre. The pair, who also dabble in gaming, explained the time-consuming process.
"Bringing a character to life and making it as human as possible, that's the best part for me," Michaela said, whose costume took a month to make from scratch. "It took us three hours to get into the costume, and will probably take three hours to get out of it!"
When asked how she felt about ESL One, she said that it's mainly a guys sport but explained girls love SFV just as much. "The funniest part is that most of the girls who come up to us know who we're cosplaying. But the guys who've come up to us will call us completely wrong things. Most of the guys here are like, 'They look cool and their butts are showing,'" she told us with a laugh.
Kirsten suggested a girls league as a way to include a female presence, or even a girls-specific game. But a long-running stigma could be holding them back. Michaela stated:
"I feel like a lot of girls get intimidated to join events and tournaments like this. It's always the token girl issue. Like if you play, no one wants to lose to a girl. But if you win, oh they got beat by a girl. But it's never a good thing for you, it's always a put down by the guy who played you. So a lot of girls shy away from events like this because they're afraid to get ridiculed."
Kirsten continued, "I tried to get serious about Super Smash Bros. at one point, and I usually picked characters people don't normally play. They'd ridicule me for choosing mains they don't like." Yet this doesn't apply to all women, of course. Vanessa Riley, a Brooklyn native who is a fan of playing Street Fighter, had a stigma of her own about ESL One.
"I'm actually glad I came. I thought it was the nerd Super Bowl when I walked in, but it's been pretty interesting," she told us. "What was cool to me was seeing Justin Wong, and I remember seeing him when he used to play at Chinatown fairs. And he's still killing it! Although he lost, but hopefully he'll make his way back up the ranks."
Riley, who says the market audience is very focused, suggested branching out on social media and contacting websites or magazines backed by women. And as for if she will ever compete at ESL One in the future? "I hope so, being here actually makes me want to play."
Below, watch professional gamer Justin Wong discuss his favorite Street Fighter themes with Fuse: