Recently, an all-female M’sian esports team has been making plenty of headlines for winning gold the Commonwealth Esports Championships (CEC).
Considering the fact that most of the athletes, and even the manager herself, have won many accolades under the Grills Gaming (GG) banner, they did have a fair shot at having a podium finish at the CEC.
Yet, I never expected them to have won with a clean record, undefeated by any other country or team. While I didn’t doubt their capabilities, some of the athletes have actually left professional esports behind for a while. The last Team Grills Gaming played together would be in 2018.
The person who brought them together for the Championships in Birmingham was Tiffani Lim, also known as Oling.
She served as the manager and substitute player for the team, but she used to play as hard support for Team GG and was known for her clutch saves, as highlighted by our article on the team from 2017.
“I heard about the CEC having a Dota 2 Women category and figured with the talents we have, we stood a great chance to win,” she said to Vulcan Post.
And so, Tiffani reached out to her ex-teammates, Stephanie Lim Yuen Lii (Auroraa) and Bette Chia Hooi Ping (istarx), to form a team to compete.
Then they built the rest of their lineup which included some familiar names in the industry like Nadrah Saufi (Nada), Wong Wei Sian (HG), and Tan Lyn Xhin (Shizuma).
After requesting the national federation to make the necessary registrations, the women’s Dota 2 team was ready to carry the Malaysian flag all the way to Birmingham.
Experiencing the dark sides of the industry
Two players, HG and Shizuma, told Vulcan Post that they had actually stopped Dota 2 for a while now, yet took istarx and Auroraa up on the opportunity when asked.
“My friend istarx asked me to join because there were not enough Malaysian female players to play in this tournament, and I promised her that I would do it,” HG, who plays support, revealed.
Shizuma shared that she had a hard time getting sponsored and thus couldn’t train and compete full time. “When life calls, I still need to answer,” she added.
Perhaps one of the many reasons they left the industry was because of the hardships they faced as women in esports, which is still considered a male-dominated industry.
istarx shared that her experiences as a woman in the field included comments that were painful to read, with many of them carrying very misogynistic connotations.
“Boosted girls, go back to the kitchen,” would be one of the milder comments she shared.
Even after winning the gold medal, istarx came across many criticisms that made fun of her team’s looks or even objectified the team.
“Not only that, people bashed us, saying how we are noobs and that we can’t compete with men anyways,” she said. “So where they could just celebrate our achievements with us, they chose to bash us. Soon enough, I stopped looking at the comments.”
Oling chimed in, adding that sexual harassment and misogyny are commonplace in the male-industry industry of esports.
Objectification and inappropriate comments are simply just other unfortunate situations the female gamers have gotten used to over the years.
While it’s a grim reality of the gatekeeping that still goes on in the professional gaming scene (and casual one too, in fact), the women in Grills Gaming have chosen to persevere, which brought them to where they are today.
Training for the Commonwealth
On top of Dota 2, many of the athletes actually have plenty of other commitments. For instance, Nada is finishing up her degree, so time management is key for her to be able to attend scrims with full focus while still completing assignments on time.
For those like Shizuma, life is filled with never-ending commitments, so a conscious decision must be made in order to have time for esports.
According to HG and Nada, the team prepared for around two months for the CEC. Training usually involves scrims, which is when a professional team plays against another professional or competitive team to practice.
The two shared that the team usually has their scrims from 9PM till midnight, or even past that.
While training has become a routine for them, Auroraa, the captain, shared that she believes most of the athletes started Dota 2 as casual players, only to fall in love with the game over time.
Oling added that the team members all started playing at different times, meaning the scenes during which they joined were rather different.
“Shizuma was already a legendary player in the early Dota 2 days, and our youngest players only started playing a few years back,” she pointed out. “The female scene has been progressing slowly, but [the] fact remains that there are not enough female players around to form full teams with.”
While esports prize pools and viewership have increased exponentially, thanks to it being a medal sport in the SEA Games and Asian Games, Oling believes there’s still a long way ahead before esports athletes can gain mainstream approval and support.
Maintaining a champions’ mindset
Given that many of the players have been away from the game for a while, I was curious as to whether they get nervous while playing in front of an audience.
“I’m the only player in the team who gets stressed and nervous easily, but I just need a few games or some time to ease my nerves and adapt,” HG confessed.
With this in mind, she said that viewers can probably see her having a hard time early-game as she’d sometimes make wrong commands or team fight decisions.
Shizuma has a similar experience, as she gets nervous at first, especially when competing onstage. This is as she can hear the crowd shouting, which can get overwhelming.
Even with the nerves, though, the team’s expectations had been high from the get-go, with their eyes set on the gold medal.
“I’ve always had a very strong feeling that we can get the champion title,” Shizuma expressed. “Just didn’t expect it to be a clean sweep!”
Nada added that the team’s goal going into the CEC was always to place first, but like Shizuma, she didn’t expect to do it with a clean sweep. “I’m very proud of my team for that,” she shared.
The future of Grills Gaming and gaming for girls
Despite being unfamiliar with esports, hearing about the ladies’ tremendous results has been largely inspiring for me. Not to start an esports career per se, but to strive to achieve what I’m really passionate about.
Unfortunately, some like istarx feel like the win might not impact the industry much locally.
“But some people started saying how they want to start now, so they can win gold in the future,” she mused. “I hope they’re serious about it!”
Aurora added that for the women-only category, she hopes the team inspires more female players to actively join competitions.
“For those who really found competitive playing to be their calling, it’s important to know you must start somewhere, and hopefully, you eventually will end up on the level of competition you want to be on,” she advised.
As for the future of the team itself, though, nothing concrete has been shared yet. Shizuma playfully told us that we would have to continue following them closely to find out.
Auroraa did hint that the team would definitely try to join competitions as long as their schedule allows it. Unfortunately, female-only competitions rarely have sustainable prize pools, so the team hopes to improve in order to compete at an even higher level.
“But you still have to prioritise the other things in life that provide you the sustenance,” she said. “Even though we got gold in the Commonwealth Esports Championships, it is still an event restricted to only the Commonwealth countries.”
As such, the team captain has set her sights on competitions that are open to all so she can compete with stronger teams.
We look forward to seeing what’s next for the team, so we’ll certainly be paying close attention, as per Shizuma’s suggestions.
Featured Image Credit: Global Esports Federation