By 11 June 2019 | Categories: feature articles


To win in video games, you don’t have to be the strongest or biggest. Rather, you need to be fast and smart. There are few physical limitations to playing games, none of which can be split along gender lines. Gaming as an activity is gender neutral, which helps esports become a popular home for a large number of competitive female athletes.

Women esports teams are still significantly rarer than all-male teams, but this is changing. A point in case is Bravado Finesse, the Dell Alienware and Intel-sponsored all-female gaming team that focuses on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It may surprise many that an all-women team is fighting hard to climb the ranks in a violent action game. But there are many myths and misconceptions about women in gaming that don’t stand up to scrutiny - and Finesse is busy breaking down each one of them.

Recently it reinforced that ambition with the introduction of a new coach. Thulani Sishi might lack the feminine touch, but he is an esports veteran who hopes to bring some of that experience and further improve Finesse’s performance.

Counter-Strike player for more than 14 years, Thulani cut his teeth playing for several big esports teams and managing some of them. Enchanted by the game’s endless outcomes and possibilities, he developed a roadmap to refine every aspect of playing it. Later on, he stepped back from competitive play and started coaching Leetpro, then was approached to coach Bravado Finesse:

“I’m digging deeper into the role, figuring out more effective and efficient ways to apply the theoretical side of the game to the practical side. It’s about creating a blueprint for champions, if you will.” 

Doing it for themselves

Yet if gaming is supposed to be above gender, why have an all-female team at all? For Thulani, it’s not an issue. He pointed out that some women are far better players than men. But there is a good reason for this self-imposed segregation: professional gaming is still a male-dominated scene and women have to go to extra effort to make themselves valued. All-female teams also have the benefit of entering tournaments limited to women competitors.

“Personally I think females fit well into the esports world,” said Jana “Saltmonkey” du Toit, Finesse’s captain. “It is not a gender-agnostic space though. There are tournaments in which male and female teams compete on equal grounds, but there are all-female tournaments as well. This is to encourage female gaming because there aren’t as many female players and they need more encouragement. It’s daunting walking into a man’s world.”

For Thulani, the appeal of an all-women team also has another dimension - winning a major tournament on their own merit:

“Imagine an all-female team winning a major…. Don’t dismiss it! That would be a crazy storyline and break the internet.”

Girls like games

There is little reason to think women aren’t attracted to gaming. Since the early 2000s, data from gaming organisations such as the ESA have revealed that as many women as men play games as a hobby. Yet some still think that the types of games can be divided along gender lines, so the idea that women can play aggressively in a violent game such as Counter-Strike doesn’t make sense.

But that is patently absurd, not the least because many male players prefer games that aren’t violent or action-packed. Meanwhile women certainly have no aversion to violent entertainment: for example, a sizable portion of the violent series Game of Thrones’ viewers are women.

Gender differences also bring up questions about advantages and disadvantages. Are men brasher or are women more adept at strategy? Thulani and Jana both dismiss these notions. Do women have an advantage? No, not really. Said Thulani:

“The beauty of gaming is that men and women can compete on the same level, which is opposite to most other sports. I think further studies would be extremely interesting in this regard and maybe, with time, we would find out where each gender holds the hatchet over the other.”

Jana added that the real differences are not due to gender but personalities: some people are more careful, others more aggressive. Respecting and honing these difference are what create winning teams, particularly because Counter-Strike is a very team-oriented game.

But women can still encounter misogynistic attitudes in the male-dominated esports world. Jana and her teammates have encountered a lot of this over their careers so far. Yet she noted these can make them a stronger team as they encourage more inward focus and better team dynamics. In other words, they don’t let the pigs get to them. She added that attitudes have been evolving:

“The scene has changed a lot over the last two years. It used to be usual to have someone be mean to you because you are a female. This is no longer the case, it has gone from being the rule to being the exception. On average, I am now treated as an equal in most games, and when I am not... I simply mute the toxic person. It is important to note that there are some amazing people out there that treat you as an equal and respect you as a gamer. Those are the real MVPs.”

Bravado Finesse, coached by Thulani, is starting to make its mark. Sponsored by Dell Alienware and Intel, the team’s next tournament is at the Ekasi Esports festival, set to happen in Soweto in late June, followed by matches in the VS Gaming league. Finesse will also be qualifying to compete in some all-female tournaments, such as the Iris League. As always, Finesse and the rest of Bravado are active on social media channels to answer questions, engage with fans and make announcements - so follow them!

What is the ultimate goal for Bravado Finesse? Thulani said it best: “To be the best they can be in the female and mixed comps, and if possible an overseas event to test the waters and make a splash!”

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