Six LGBTQ+ gamers who are making the virtual world a better place

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It’s a good time to be an LGBTQ+ gamer. That may seem like a bold statement, but consider the in-game evidence. The first two characters a player meets in Overwatch, for example—Tracer and Soldier: 76—are gay. The Last of Us Part II, meanwhile, features prominent lesbian and trans characters.

Game developers and publishers, for their part, are taking clear steps to promote diversity and keep players safe. Last month, for example, EA announced an “updated set of community guidelines with clear consequences for players who engage in racist, sexist, homophobic and abusive acts in our games and channels”.

These are all positive developments. The hard truth, though, is that ESports and online-gaming communities haven’t always been welcoming spaces for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. With that in mind, then, let’s recognize a few fearless individuals who have helped make things better for LGBTQ+ gamers.

Sara Andrews
Gamer, World of Warcraft

Sara Andrews might not have been the first World of Warcraft player to create a queer-friendly guild within the game. She became something of a cause célèbre, though, when Blizzard Entertainment tried to shut down her attempts to recruit new members.

In 2006, Andrews used WoW’s in-game chat system to invite LGBTQ+ gamers to her guild, called Oz. This prompted an email from a Blizzard customer-service rep, who warned Andrews that she was in breach of the game’s terms of service. The rep told her: “While some language in and of itself may not be offensive, it may incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game.”

In other words, Andrews was in trouble not because of anything she said or did, but because homophobes might not like it. How dare she!

Blizzard quickly backtracked and apologized to Andrews. The company also announced it was providing over 1,000 Game Masters with “sensitivity training”.

You would think the company learned its lesson from the Oz incident. In October of last year, however, it forced a WoW guild called GAY BOYS to change its name. Why? It seems homophobes didn’t like it. The group received the randomly generated (and meaningless) handle of “Guild ZFXPK”.

In an emailed statement to Ars Technica, guild member Ahmil Jilani noted that he had indeed received hateful comments such as “Fuck the gays, reported.”

To say that there is anything inappropriate about the word GAY or BOYS is, in and of itself, inappropriate, childish, and discriminatory. Individuals that found the name inappropriate should be the ones taking a good look at themselves in the mirror, because this is 2019, and we have a right to exist as a community.

Ahmil Jilani

This sentiment echoes something Andrews said in 2006. “If you want to stop harassment, you should punish the harasser, not the victim,” she noted.

In the end, the GAY BOYS guild had its original name reinstated. Maybe Blizzard did learn something from the Oz incident after all.

Dominique “SonicFox” McLean
Gamer, EVO

As announcements go, it was a sweetly put and endearingly giddy bombshell. When certifiable Evo legend Dominique “SonicFox” McLean ascended to the Game Awards podium to accept the Player of the Year trophy in 2018 they seemed a bit overwhelmed.

After declaring that they were surprised to have won and revealing they got into gaming to meet friends and find an accepting community, they removed their cobalt-blue fox head and made a revelation.

It went like this: “As you guys also may know, or may not know, I’m also super-gay.” That was immediately followed by “super-shout-out to all my LGBTQ friends.”

Not done there, McLean followed up in 2019 with a non-binary declaration. Taking to Twitter, they wrote: “I hope you all accept me for me regardless of how I appear! That is all I could ever ask for!” Fans did just that, leading SonicFox to followup their tweet with “so many friendly replies.”

SonicFox remains an outspoken inspiration today, with a Pinned June 6 declaring the following:

James “Stress” O’Leary
ESports commentator

Scary as it is for some, there can also be something tremendously empowering about coming out. Welsh ESports broadcaster and commentator James “Stress” O’Leary discovered that after making a bold leap.

After embracing ESports as a way to distract himself from a breakup, he eventually found himself a fixture on European League of Legends broadcasts. But even as his profile grew as a member the LEC team, he kept his private life private.

stress-gamers
James “Stress” O’Leary.

As O’Leary revealed to gaymingmag.com in an interview, that decision bothers him today. “I never pushed the fact I’m gay on broadcast, and it pains me every time I think about it,” he said. “I really wish I’d had the courage to stand up and fight for our community to be more inclusive.”

O’Leary continued: “I know that at any time, countless number of LGBTQ+ identifying viewers were watching, and by hiding myself, I wasn’t out there telling each and every one of them that they are welcome.”

His advice now that he’s an openly enthusiastic spokesman using his platform to push for inclusion of LGBTQ+ gamers in ESports? “Be yourself to whatever degree you’re comfortable with,” he said. “It’s not easy to be openly LGBTQ+ anywhere in life, and no one should hold it against you if you’re not ready to show the world who you are. That being said, try to be surrounded by people who you can be true to yourself around, you’ll be a lot happier for it!”

May “Mystearica” Peterson
Gamer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

As a society, we’ve come a long way when it comes to LGTBQ rights and acceptance. Sometimes, though, something will drive home how far we still have to go. Consider the steps that had to be taken for Frostbite, the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament that took place in February on Twitch.

When unranked May “Mystearica” Peterson squared off against Japanese heavyweight Takuma “Tea” Hirooka, tournament organizers had to take the steps of delaying the chat messages written by viewers watching the bout online.

Specifically, they were weeding out and nuking transphobic and other negative comments towards Mysterearica. The Pittsboro, Indiana-based ESports athlete is transgender. She officially revealed her status in January, posting on Twitter “hi. please refer to me with she/her pronouns from now on, for however long is left. thank you”.

In an interview with the Indiana Daily Student this April, Mystearica noted that the weeks and months after the Twitter announcement have been mostly positive ones, including in the Super Smash Bros. community where she’s now ranked 97th in the world.

“Everyone has been very supportive of me and it’s been very good,” she said. “It’s been a weight off my chest to be honest because when I did it I was really scared.”

Garrett Pattiani & Russ White
Co-founders, Federated Gaymers League

In January of 2019, the Sin City Classic Sports Festival drew thousands of athletes to Las Vegas. Alongside hockey, soccer, and running events, last year’s edition saw LGBTQ+ gamers going head-to-head in Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

For that, you can thank Garrett Pattiani and Russ White. The pair, founders of the Federated Gaymers League, organized Sin City Classic’s first ESports tournament.

Pattiani sees ESports as a way for LGBTQ+ gamers to express themselves. “You can be anybody you want to be. You can create avatars to mimic how you identify, you can change your name and change your hair color,” he told the Washington Blade. “These esports communities create a space where you can be your true self and offers the gamer the ability to explore identities.”

Pattiani and White intend to expand the ESports presence at the Sin City Classic. They seem to be on the right track. They held the 2019 tournament in the Wall Gaming Lounge at the Rio All-Suite Hotel. For the 2021 edition, slated to take place next January, they’ll take over the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor.

“We have the technology to create an LGBT community database of gamers worldwide,” White told the Washington Blade in 2019. “Leagues where they would be playing esports against each other, city against city. With sponsorships and prize money, we could draw the best players to Vegas to compete in future Sin City Classics.”

Written with John Lucas

Mike Usinger once took the better part of two years to finish Grand Theft Auto. Over the course of his career he has written about everything from eSports to music to movies to travel.

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