Melania Mylioti is what you'd call a veteran of the Counter-Strike scene. As a player with experience in virtually every iteration since its release, Mylioti counts herself among a small section of the Counter-Strike population that has well and truly seen the best and worst of their beloved game.
As a female pro-gamer, the self-proclaimed "CS:GO mom" also has a front row seat to the best and worst of her community. In between playing as entry-fragger for the Epsilon women's team and connecting aspiring women with pro teams via her CS:GO Ladies group, I spoke with Mylioti about her career, handling criticism, and the prevailing preconceptions of females in esports.
Let me start by saying that every time I speak with Counter-Strike players, it seems like they've been playing the game since video games were invented.
Yeah, in the beginning it was, of course, not esports related; just for fun. Around 2004 I really got started in the esports scene.
What causes that jump? What motivates someone to want to put their skills on display for all to observe, criticize, and admire?
Honestly, I didn't even know there was an esports scene. I didn't know you had all of these tournaments and this whole world was new to me. I just found out because I was playing with some players from Belgium and we started playing on public, then they joined some public clan, then we had some matches against another clan.
Suddenly, I got to know some people who were more competitive. So I made a team and started to play with a lot of guys, a lot of girls. I was really lucky to meet a lot of these good players starting in the Netherlands, then traveling to Germany, and then Sweden, so I'm very lucky to have had the chance to play with top players and get a lot of experience. I've even been to over 100 gaming events.
So you had the chance to rub elbows in some of Counter-Strike's biggest nations.
Germany and Sweden definitely, but that was more 2006 and 2009. With Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it really shifted to the Polish teams and the French teams. France in particular was a very closed community but they're starting to branch out now.
With esports' predominately male fanbase, it's hard for most to imagine what it's like to be a female in an overwhelmingly male environment. How has your experience differed from that of your male peers?
In the beginning I was very new and I wasn't a very good player, so I guess the most common thought is that they were only taking me because I'm a girl. (laughs) But I guess I also showed some potential, I wasn't just a girl who played the game for the attention. So people knew me for that, for being competitive, not just that I was a girl around guys.
You made it a point to let your skill do the talking.
Yes, exactly. Nowadays, I play with a lot of guys in matchmaking, maybe some mixed tournaments, nothing serious. But they always tell me that sometimes it's nice to have a girl around because it changes the atmosphere of the team.
Well, guys are guys. (laughs) They make jokes, they troll, but with a girl around they're more careful, more peaceful.
And yet--I almost don't want to say this, but I don't believe an all-female team can reach the top. I would love to see a male team picking up one or two girls and try to get a mixed team into a very big tournament. I think that's possible.
What makes you think an all-female team can't make it to the top?
There's some research that says that our brains work differently in certain situations and in video games. Guys think differently in matches in terms of strategy, communication, things like this and this can make a crucial difference at a key point in the game.
Yet that doesn't seem to have affected you.
Yeah, you need girls who are very dedicated and want to learn, and unfortunately you don't have many of these girls in the CS:GO scene, at least. They think it's just a game and put priority on school and work, but that's good! You should do that!
But guys take it more seriously. They try to make it their only job. You don't see girls drop out of school to play esports, it's just guys.
When you put it that way, it sounds like there's a strong cultural component to the gender disparity.
Well, for example, you have HLTV where a lot of people go for information about Counter-Strike. And this website always rages when there's something related to female players. Because, if there's a female-only competition, then people say, "no, they shouldn't be divided." But no male would seriously pick up a female--or a few--to join their team because that's just unthinkable! They seem to think that everyone will laugh or something, and that's something we need to break.
So people complain about female-only tournaments, but without these tournaments you don't get to demonstrate your skill because very few teams would consider picking up a female player.
Yes. Another thing that happens is that when they announced a tournament and included two female teams, everyone on HLTV was saying, "it's a shame that you're giving two spots to girls' teams!" They saw it as a waste of a spot.
What is it like being a female who takes the game seriously, and reading those comments?
Well, I've heard it a lot the past couple of years. You always hear it and hopefully it will be way less in the future. But I don't take it personally, and a lot of people know that there are some serious female gamers. Sometimes I post a comment about why we are divided and what we would like to have--mixed teams, mixed tournaments, etc.--but that's not just up to us to make happen. It needs to be the whole scene that accepts the idea.
It sounds like you don't let it get to you, but that's a concept that males don't even encounter. There's no one on a forum saying, "why are there so many dudes at this tournament?"
It's really funny if you think about it that way. (laughs)
In your experience, what's the greatest obstacle to getting more women involved in esports?
You really need someone or a few girls that inspire other girls to be more serious, someone who means to girls what [Jaroslaw "Pasha" Jarzabk] means to guys. There are even guys who would like to see more female players, including [Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux], [Richard "Xizt" Landström], [Robin "flusha" Rönnquist], and [Ladislav "Guardian" Kovacs].
I'm sure there are some fans who buy stickers because they love the players you just named, and then turn around and post sexist rhetoric on forums. What do you think it would mean to these fans to know that even their Counter-Strike idol thinks those comments are off-base?
Well, I think a lot of esports fans are very young, so it would be difficult to change their mind. It depends a lot on the forum as well. Reddit, for example, is more mature than HLTV. But I think if you interview some of the pro players and they explain the situation, it would affect their fans as well.
Maybe you should be the journalist.
Maybe, maybe. (laughs)
Thank you for your time Ms. Mylioti!
Keep up-to-date with all the latest gaming and eSports news via our Twitter: @GfinityOnline
More articles from our friends over at ZergNet can be found by clicking the images below.