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Streaming in rainbow colors, queer gamers narrate experiences in esports platforms

LGBTQ+ streamers have constantly battled with the gaming communtity’s toxicity amid the the steady growth of esports in the country.

From laid-back Stardew Valley Twitch streams to the nail-biting bouts of professional Mobile Legends tournaments, there is something everyone can appreciate in gaming. Whether it is the unique gameplay, the breathtaking art and sound, or the tight-knit communities, video games for both casual and professional players are bound to be enjoyable—even cathartic.

But beyond the fun, video games lend massive room for diversity in identity and experience. This variety, combined with gaming’s social aspect, makes them yet another battleground in a global fight brawled on innumerable fronts: the fight for greater acceptance for the LGBTQ+. While the rise of queer figures in the local professional gaming scene like Blacklist International’s “OhMyV33NUS” demonstrate the turning sociocultural tide when it comes to perception of LGBTQ+ issues, discrimination and oppression remain in many spaces.

First-person point of view

For Celine Sumo—a Game Development student at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde who goes by “TonkPlaysm”—she thrives on streaming story-rich games. “I like the art…the music, everything,” she muses. She got into the gaming industry by being a moderator for her friend, who was an already established streamer for Facebook gaming. Celine expresses how much this helped as this friend of hers lifted her spirits up when she was going through a lot emotionally at that time.

Wanting to replicate the same initiative in the streaming realm, she shares, “I told myself, if she can do that to me without her knowing that I wasn’t having a good time, I can do that to a lot of people [also]. So, I want to pass that experience to others rin. ‘Cause I know there are some viewers rin na they like watching steamers because they feel good, so I want to do that for others.”

Meanwhile, Maura “Diwa” Yap got their start in streaming by wanting to share their perspective of gaming. They point out, “[I was playing] video games and I got into a group of people who were streaming, and I thought, ‘You know what? It would be fun when we’re already playing together, why not stream my perspective also.’” Eventually, they decided to move on to the management aspect of professional gaming. Now, they are a student leader for University of the Philippines Diliman’s Oblation Esports. “It’s supposed to be [concerned] with rebuilding the organization, but right now I’m the one-man creatives team of our org handling the social media pages, making the pubmats [publicity materials], coordinating with players and student leaders,” they mention. While this was more than they bargained for, they admit that they are having fun.

Sharing their experiences as LGBTQ+ streamers, Celine says that Twitch provides tags to recommend them to the proper audience. She shares that this aids in letting people know about her sexual orientation, “I do have bisexual and LGBTQ+ tags over at my stream to just let people know.” And when people see that they can relate to the content, it becomes a domino effect for others as well, she attests.

Hearing the noise

In the Philippines, the gaming industry continues to rise in popularity and to earn recognition as a legitimate sport. And while sports have become more open and less exclusive to particular genders in recent years, members of the LGBTQ+ continue to deal with rampant discrimination and bullying.

A major struggle they face are insults thrown at them in the form of homophobic comments and slurs branded as hate raids. Dealing with this kind of environment—in a place she considers her safe space—is concerning for Celine, “I’m worried about people in the community…I’ve already seen people making threats.” While some queer content creators do not experience constant backlash from the gaming community, those who suffer from the toxicity shouldn’t be left behind. Maura states they have never experienced any form of discrimination against their sexuality among peers and people in the community, but has encountered strangers that attacked her for it. They recall a time when they were playing Valorant, “Because there’s voice chat, on a bad day, you get slurs or [get called names] drops.”

The long road ahead

The work to create wider acceptance and comfort for LGBTQ+ individuals is far from over: many are still on the receiving end of slurs and discriminatory practices. In the face of hate raids against queer gamers on Twitch, the best streamers can do is just to disable their chat to stop users from sending malicious and disrespectful comments. 

To make waves of change within the industry, Celine stresses that we need to hold gaming platforms accountable, those who ultimately have the power to make a permanent difference through hate speech policies and moderation. “Call out the people in the higher ups because they can do more than us,” they remind. “Streamers, we just need to keep being vocal about it.” 

Another way out is accurate representation—fully fleshed-out LGBTQ+ characters with their own, unique stories—to help LGBTQ+ players feel affirmed and for others to learn. “It would be really good if a game would actually express or represent properly, not just the generic trend of that one gay friend type of representation that you see in movies,” Celine adds, citing Dontnod

Entertainment’s episodic Tell Me Why as one such game that is capable of depicting experiences of the transgender community. 

For Maura, making safer spaces for LGBTQ+ gamers is important—and that means making safer spaces for everyone on the internet, regardless of identity. “I think kindness is one of the most important human traits that have been bestowed upon us [in] this green, spherical world,” Maura muses. “If we’re not going to be kind to each other, who will be kind to us?”

Toward inclusive gaming

Thankfully, the gaming industry has made some strides. Maura acknowledges the existing progress in tackling the pressing issue and cites that there is change somehow, “People are standing [against] discrimination and for putting other people down.”

Celine affirms this, saying, “You can definitely feel people be extra careful, which I appreciate. It’s important to be careful with each other.”

But at the end of the day, oppression, unfortunately, lives on. While platforms play a huge part in quelling hatred, the fight for more inclusive gaming—where one can be freely and unapologetically queer—is in the hands of its gamers. From consciously calling out discrimination to nurturing a culture of kindness in their own communities, casual players, streamers, and esports professionals all have a role to play: a role that begins with self-confidence.

“For the streamers and gamers there in the community, don’t stop expressing yourself. Don’t let one person hating you stop you from being who you are,” Celine urges.

A gamer is not just a faceless player behind a screen: they are a living, breathing person embedded in a social world. “When we talk about gamer and marginalized groups in gaming, it’s important to acknowledge the different connotations we have of the word ‘gamer’,” Maura notes.

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