Professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey has been part of the esports industry since 2003, “before it was even called esports,” she joked. Missharvey has won five Women’s Electronic Sports World Cup titles, two of which were with CLG Red, where she was an original member.
Being around the esports industry this long, missharvey has grown to love the community while also recognizing what was missing: Women. Whether it be competitors, casters, or just female employees at esports companies, it’s always been a problem in esports, even as some tournaments like the WINNERS League are working to change that by supporting all-female Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams.
missharvey has recently become CounterLogic Gaming’s director of esports outreach, with the goal of engaging the female esports community to inspire “inclusivity-focused esports programming.” In an interview with WIN.gg, the decorated CSGO veteran discusses why women make up such a small percentage of esports players and professionals, and how this can be improved in the future.
How did you get involved with esports in 2003?
missharvey: I like to say it’s just pure luck. At the time, since it wasn’t big at all, it was really underground. We had a LAN center across my high school oriented towards gaming. I really wanted to go to prom with this guy who kept going there. I just went and I honestly just fell in love with the community there.
He was never there when I was there, but I fell in love with the games and the people. The atmosphere. The rest is history.
What initially drew you to Counter-Strike?
He was playing two games: Soldier of Fortune and Counter-Strike. His friends were saying that CS would be a bigger deal, you should stick with it. I started playing and eventually the local LAN had an official team back then. It was competing across North America. I was on their team, but as a mascot. Sort of an influencer.
Eventually the best female team in Quebec, EGE Girls, asked me to start playing with them. That’s when I really started learning about the competitive roots of the game. Before I was just sort of watching and playing on the public server. I was only caring about my score, not really about winning.
How did you feel when EGE reached out with that opportunity?
At first I thought I wasn’t good enough. I thought they were crazy. But I realized I was as good as everyone else. It was my point of entry to realizing that I could compete.
I was cast as a female gamer before that.
Although EGE Girls was an all-female CSGO team, how was this different than being a “mascot” on the previous team, being touted as this rare female gamer?
Within the team, it didn’t matter that we were girls. We were only talking about performance and winning and getting better.
Were you competing against other all-female teams or against both sexes?
Yes, a majority of men, actually. Throughout my whole career, I mainly competed versus males.
Right now, a lot of the all-female teams only compete against other all-female teams in tournaments that are geared towards women. This seems like it can sometimes alienate women from the rest of esports, or even support the notion that women aren’t able to compete on mens’ level. What are your thoughts on these tournaments?
Female tournaments, at the moment, are the only initiative we have towards female gamers. Because of those events, we’ve seen female teams even being sponsored.
Those are band-aids, in my opinion. They serve a purpose, but underneath the band-aid the problem is still there.
The goal is to mix everyone into a melting pot. Then those tournaments wouldn’t even need to exist. But we need to be realistic that without them, we wouldn’t even have any females featured in CSGO. I understand the frustration, but we need to see the bigger picture, that it’s exposing the game and competition to a underrepresented demographic in the community. After that, we need other initiatives. But right now we don’t have a lot. Let’s keep the band-aid for now, but we also need to focus on the rest.
All-female tournaments can help because women are often afraid to get involved with esports for one reason or another. Why do you think women are apprehensive about getting more involved with competitive gaming?
That’s always difficult to answer. I have ten reasons that happens, but I do believe competitive gaming, in general, from reading what’s happening in poker and chess… In chess, it’s a problem that starts as young as six years old. It’s something where our society told little girls not to play games for so long. The fact is that it’s scientifically proven that ladies need to be taught to be competitive, while men are naturally competitive. This needs to be taught earlier on, whether it be in sports or gaming. It’s super importnat if we want to see more female players in esports. Teach them at a young age to enjoy competing.
Most of the games were not attractive to women, but now games like League of Legends and Overwatch have female characters.
Toxicity is another factor. Men can be really aggressive when they play against women, something that also happens in chess. It’s not just a gaming problem. It’s really a competitive and societal problem. When males play women in anything they can become extremely aggressive and take a lot of risks. Even irrational ones, which can be really heavy to play against.
As a professional CSGO player, is that kind of behavior from male competitors something you ran into a lot yourself?
Yes, absolutely. When I read that, I was like “Oh my god, that’s my whole life.” I read that less than six months ago and I’ve been in this industry for so long. That’s why I’m getting really interested in these things.
Aggressiveness sometimes is not even being displayed vocally. It’s often dispalyed in the game, the gameplay itself. There’s a lot of plays in CSGO where you can have passive aggressive moments or take crazy risks and get away with it. Throughout my career, every time we played male teams our goal was always to shut them down early and make them realize that they can’t disrespect us. If we didn’t shut them down, they’d just keep doing random stuff you can’t predict, which is really hard to play against.
Why do you think men react this way to female competitors?
There’s this primal behavior that’s being shown in chess. I do believe it’s the same in video games, especially CSGO. A desire to prove that they’re the superior gender. They just want to show they’re better, that they’re the best.
Have you seen any improvements over the years with toxicity and aggressiveness towards women in gaming?
I do believe we’re doing much better. The arrival of new games like Overwatch and LoL, and also consequences for being disrespectful to your opponents. The generation getting older, too. They’re having kids themselves.
But it’s pretty obvious if you look at the talent and competition, behind the camera, on the desk. You see more and more women there. I guess that’s the first step. To be inspired by women that are in front of the camera. Even in CSGO, you have more and more women involved, and in other games as well. It’s important to have a diverse panel for every competition. We talk a lot about women, but it’s also very white male dominated. We need people of color and people from across the world.
As CLG’s director of esports outreach, what are you hoping to do to help women get more involved in esports? What does your job consist of?
My new position is a little bit of everything. It’s everything that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s like my dream job. My goal is to help create more inclusive communities and elevate the amauture scene, especially for women. How to facilitiate that is to create educational and mentorship opportuniteis for parents and teachers and friends and families and players. We want to support our players on a 360-degree level. Not only in the game, but with their health and their body and mind.
It’s also about elevating our Red team. The goal is to potentially make CLG Red expand into other games. We need to see who we can support. I like to say that we do all these initiatives for the community because we need to do better. Let’s do better together and figure out how to do that. One initiative at thet time, but the goal is to have better best practices within the esports industry.
How did you feel when CLG came to you with this opportunity?
I felt like a million bucks. I have so many opportunities. My career was doing really well. I took almost a year deciding what to do next. I just wasn’t finding the right fit after being a competitor for so long. I wanted to redefine my identitiy. I didn’t want to just be the best in the world. I wanted to make a difference.
When they contacted me about what I wanted to do, I told them what was missing in esports, that nobody was ever doing. They said they wanted to do it and I joined them again. I like to say they’re my family. I came back to CLG because they believe in the same values I do.
What are some of the things you want to focus on right now?
I do believe that there’s a lot of women that are involved in the esports organizations. But not a lot of them have visiblity. They work hard, but behind the scenes. Because of my already established position in the community, I can showcase my work but also these women. I’m looking forward to working with these women who have been doing great things for years and help them get the recognition they deserve.
As far as all the initiatives I want to do for women in the community, I’ve been there. I was there. I’m not a stranger when it comes to these issues. I want to make sure what we are doing for these women are actually needed, something that will be utilized to help them feel supported and grow within the esports industry.
I know CLG Red also competed in WINNERS League, along with other all-female teams from organizations like Besiktas, Dignitas, and Copenhagen Flames. What do you think of leagues like the WINNERS League, where female competitors are not singled out for being women and are instead competing with everyone else?
I think that’s super important. These girls are all the top teams, already established with sponsors. They need to reach that next step. That means competing versus these guys. I know they are on a regular basis, but they have to do it a higher level to get that experience that allows them to move up. A league like that is awesome. It’s great they want to get women involved.
Because there’s so many women involved… Well, usually there’s only one female team and they get a lot of hate. I think it’s really cool that we are involved but at another level. On that note, I do believe it’s important to help the top but also the bottom. I think that’s something as a community we’re doing better and better. One female team played in DreamHack Open versus the guys. But we need to not forget the female teams with less support. No sponsors. No salaries.
Why do you think those female teams are singled out?
They’re an easy target I guess.
When there’s more all-female teams or female competitors in general in a competition, do you feel that normalizes women competing in esports, instead of singling them out?
Yes, I think so. It’s much more effective than experimenting with one team.
Do you have anything you wanted to say to girls and women who are interested in getting involved in esports?
It’s always hard because I have so many messages. But the main one is you do what you want, what your dream is. Whatever that means, the goal is to live your dream, accomplish your dream, and explore your passions. No matter the adversity, focus on your goals and your environment and support groups. Forget about the rest. Get feedback from your peers, not social media. And move forward.