- The captain of Sri Lanka’s first female national eSports championship team on gaming
As we as humans continue to evolve, our definition of sport is changing. For example, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed to add baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, climbing, and surfing to the sports programme for the games.
The digital age (and, of course, the pandemic) has had a huge impact on how we approach play, and even before the pandemic, eSports has become the fastest-growing sport over the last few years, both worldwide and within Sri Lanka. Like all formal sports, eSports also has a governing body, the Sri Lanka eSports Association, founded in 2012 and recognised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Sri Lanka as the governing body for eSports in the country. The association also provided the pathway for national eSports athletes to represent Sri Lanka at international events such as the 18th Asian Games, eSports World Championships, and many more.
eSports is typically seen as a man’s, or rather, boy’s world, fuelled by the (rather undeserved) stereotype of young, unemployed men living in their parents’ basements or holed up in their rooms amid a mess of junk food obsessively playing video games, with no desire to be financially independent or take on adult responsibilities.
The reality of this is quite different. For one thing, gaming is very expensive, requiring high-performing devices in constant need of upgrading. Earlier this year in an article on shattering gamer stereotypes, The Washington Post reported that various studies now suggest that game play offers health benefits, from improved learning to increased social connection. And while many US parents used to forbid their children from gaming, 87% now believe that video games can be educational, and roughly 80% believe they can help foster creativity. Gamers themselves recognise the potential upsides. About 80% report that playing games offer them both mental stimulation and stress relief.
With regard to it being a “boy’s world”, The Washington Post reported that 2019 data showed that in the US alone, women are just as likely as men to play video games, and it is a passion that spans generations; the average gamer is between the ages of 35 and 44, while 15% of gamers are 55 or older.
While eSports and gaming in Sri Lanka is not at the same level of the US, we are making great strides in competitive eSports and in diversity within the field. Last week, the Sri Lanka eSports Association announced its first National Women’s Team for Dota 2, a team of six women gamers: Nadeeshani “FoXy” Jayasinghe, Tikiri “Stardust” Diasena, Zahra “Nerd” Thajudeen, Nardhya “Prince$$” Grero, Semini “JollyGood!” Perera, and Jessica “Chansica” Devendra.
The team will represent Sri Lanka at international tournaments for Dota 2, the first of which was the Global eSports Games 2021 organised by the Global eSports Federation. The team competed within Region 1 of the Regional Qualifiers going head to head with Mongolia in their first match. After hours of intense and strategic gameplay by the Sri Lankan girls, Mongolia emerged as the winner. However, the team acquired a significant amount of exposure and experience that will be instrumental in honing their skills for the future.
Dota 2, is one of the world’s most popular competitive multiplayer online battle arena games that requires strong strategic thinking, teamwork, and co-ordination. It is commendable that despite the steep learning curve demanded by the game, the National Women’s Team built a strong level of competency within just one month of assembly to hold their own at an international platform.
Brunch chatted with team captain Tikiri “Stardust” Diasena, who up until 2020 was a casual gamer who had been gaming for over 20 years, before moving into competitive gaming in 2020. Stardust is passionate about role-playing and strategy video games, with Dota 2 being one of her favourite games to play.
What got you into gaming?
I started gaming when I was very young, around five or six years. The first games I played were the arcade games you got on Windows 95 (this was 20 years ago). As I grew older, I began to play Need For Speed a lot and strategy games like Age of Empires. Age of Empires: Mythologies was a big favourite of mine.
At that time, I wasn’t gaming online or anything like that, back then it was CD games that you’d buy and install. I have three older brothers, and we used to game together whenever we could. With some games, we set up a LAN (Local Area Network) so we could play multiplayer games with each other.
I only got into gaming online a lot later. Dota was the first online multiplayer game I played. I enjoy the exciting aspect of gaming, and I love playing RPGs like Skyrim Dragon Age too. I love the stories of these games and the escapism of them.
Looking back at 20 years of gaming, the biggest difference I see is the community and social aspect of it. 20 years ago, there was no online gaming or anything like that. Now, we can play with a lot of different people, something we couldn’t get the chance to do before. The graphics of these games have also evolved and become much stronger, but storywise I don’t see a big difference between the games then and now.
What are your favourite things and characters in Dota?
My favourite Dota hero (or character to play) is Mirana, and my role in Dota is mainly support, and she is a great character for playing support. She has some interesting skills as well – she can shoot arrows to stun people, and she rides a live tiger as a mount. She’s a very interesting hero.
Another favourite is the Treant protector, a character who has the ability to heal.
One interesting thing about Dota that I really like was the Dota-related anime series released on Netflix recently. The main character is a Dragonite (someone who can transform into a dragon). What’s really interesting is that it builds on the lore of the original game. Dota doesn’t have a specific story because the story unfolds based on what you and your other players do, but it does have a lot of lore – background stories, mythologies, and legends within the game’s universe – so to be able to see an anime about the lore that explores the characters’ pre-existing stories is pretty interesting.
Tell us a bit about forming the national team and what the local gaming scene is like, especially when it comes to female gamers.
I knew some of the team beforehand because last there was a women’s cybergames tournament organised by Gamer.lk, and most of the girls from the team participated in the Dota one-on-one category.
I’ve been playing Dota since 2014, but very casually in short gaps where I’d play for a month and then not play for about five or six months. Last year, because of Covid-19 and staying home, I had a lot of time to play Dota (Dota is a very time-consuming game), and since last year I’ve been playing consistently.
With girls and gaming, I think there is a smaller portion of girl gamers than boy gamers, especially playing Dota, but there are many reasons for that. For example, most people playing Dota actually started playing a while ago, and there were a few girls who got into it then, but now the community is not welcoming of new players because it takes time to build your skill in Dota, the game is very complex and it’s not easy to learn, and up until recently there were no tutorials either.
However, there are more and more girls getting into gaming. A lot of girls I know are starting to play the shooting game Valorant.
Do girl gamers have to face discrimination?
Sometimes, yes. When playing there is an in-game mic that is open so you can talk to your teammates. It’s easiest that way you need to be able to communicate easily with the other players. So sometimes when playing with random strangers there can be issues. Many girls I know don’t use their mics when playing with people they don’t know.
This is changing, however, and I hope that by forming teams like this, we can inspire other young Sri Lankan girls to start gaming and become formidable gamers who represent Sri Lanka internationally.