Intel has announced a $30,000 (19,600) tournament for female Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams.
The event, to be played at Spodek Arena on March 15, the last day of ESL One Katowice, will invite four teams to compete for the prize.
The Intel Challenge Katowice purports to be bringing in "the world's best female gamers" to the premier event on the CS:GO calendar. However some professional and semi-professional players have criticised the tournament for only offering four slots, and the exclusionary nature of a gendered tournament.
To determine the invitees, organisers will be holding qualifiers over the next two weeks. One team each will be chosen from Polish and North American qualifying rounds, while two will go forward from the European qualifiers on February 17 and 19. But with only four spots available a lot of teams will be left out in the cold, according to ESEA Main division player Brianna "masq" B (pictured, right).
"Since it was annouced people, even in the male professional scene, have been trying to convince me to join a team for that," Brianna told eSports Pro. "It's a bit odd. I suppose it would be stupid not to take advantage of it for the money, but I'm not really interested in the tournament since I already know what route I want to take."
Masq's decision to play in the main league of CS:GO, on teams of mixed gender, has meant that she has seen little in the way of prize money or sponsorships, compared to peers who chose the all-female team route. Mid-tier teams in the North American premier tournaments find little remuneration. Her criticism of the Intel Challenge tournament, then, is aimed squarely at the decision not to make it an open tournament for any teams not in the ESL One finals.
However, Julia "Juliano" Kiran, of the female team Bad Monkey Gaming, believes this is the only way to get more women into eSports. "It's what we need," Kiran told Swedish site Aftonbladet. "With more tournaments like these the female scene will grow. I don't think we should separate the genders either but the way things are now you have to, otherwise women won't compete in the same way."
Kiran also believes that fundamental difference in ideology prevents female teams from competing against their male counterparts. "The problem is that women don't look at the game in the same way," she said. "Some think that ”we don't stand a chance against guys” because it's always been that way and still is."
But masq is vehemently opposed to this idea: "Any competitor should never have that mentality," she told eSports Pro. "You say you will fail, and because you believe it, you've already condemned yourself. Like everyone, I will come across failure, but I will continue climbing the ranks whether it is the "right time" or not. If you want change, you seek it out and you do not wait passively for it to happen."
Regardless of her own opinion on eSports segregation, masq is also concerned about what this investment means for the teams that are not instantly invited to every major event. The money in eSports is a zero-sum game, and when it goes to one tournament, it is not there for others.
"I can't blame sponsors for sending their money in that direction," Brianna said. "It's a sad day, though, when there are teams outside the pro/semi-pro circuit who could rightfully attend and even dominate that competition. The North American scene is struggling with finding new talent. The lack of LANs that premier, or even main, teams can attend is low. Almost non-existent. There are local LANs but none worth attending as a team because the prizepots aren't enough to field full teams."
The sudden growth of the CS:GO competitive scene, despite its long legacy as a title, has resulted in a slight lag on behalf of sponsors. "Only now we are seeing big organisations like Counter-Logic Gaming, Cloud 9, Liquid coming into the scene and sponsoring teams," Brianna said. "MLG was a huge event that hopefully spawns a circuit of more professional events."
Ultimately, the question of integration is a difficult, multi-threaded conversation. But Brianna believes it is not resolved by splintering into separate pools. "Sure integration will take time, even years, to accomplish – who knows if it will even ever happen. It isn't easy, and it shouldn't be, but it seems in this age there are female players, and even male players, that expect instant gratification."
Update 09/02: The story has been edited to clarify that the tournament is being organised by Intel and hosted alongside ESL One at the Intel ESL Expo in Katowice.