A group of transgender women were barred from taking part in a female online gaming tournament after being told by an organiser they could be penalised for faking their gender.
Sly Buehl Rigilio, a transgender gamer who lives in Sicily, Italy, told BuzzFeed News via email that her recent gender transition has been tough as she is an “avid gamer”.
“I have been gaming since I was around 10. Gaming has always helped me cope with the burden of not being able to express my true feelings fully,” she said.
“As you’ve probably heard, we’re not very welcomed in this community, at least among the average player. [But when] I met a group of other transgender girls, things started to look up from there.”
Rigilio and her fellow gamers play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (a first person shooter game) and were excited to enter an online female tournament starting on April 30, hosted by the Electronic Sports League (ESL) and organised by the Munich Finest Gaming company in Germany.
The tournament, called “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive 5on5 Female Open Summer 2017”, was established after requests from female gamers, aimed to foster talent among women in esports.
But after Rigilio sent in her team’s entry on April 28, she received an email rejecting the request and stating: “No males are allowed. Please take care fake your gender can be [penalised]” [sic].
Rigilio alleges the team was rejected based of the photographs they supplied.
“Now when I saw this [email], I almost broke down in tears; here I am thinking we finally have a shot to shine and show our true colours to the gaming world… and then we get shut down based on our looks, because we didn’t look ‘female’ enough for them,” she said.
Rigilio wrote to the Munich Finest Gaming support team, asking for an explanation about why they were banned and accusing the organisers of discrimination.
An admin replied and said they could enter the team into the tournament manually – but only after each team member submitted a passport marked female.
Two more attempts to enter the tournament by Rigilio were met with messages simply stating “female only”.
According to information provided by ESL and the Munich Finest Gaming company, every new sign up is automatically rejected in order to prevent trolls and divert genuine competitors to identity checks.
ESL’s director of communications, Anna Rozwandowicz, told BuzzFeed News that Rigilio’s team was not barred because they are transgender, but because they failed to produce female passports.
“The bottom line of this dispute is that the Female Open tournament is a German event, held in Germany, organized by a German company [Munich Finest Gaming], and as such the rulebooks have to comply with German common law. And in Germany at this point, your official, legal gender is the one that’s listed in your passport or any other government-issued ID,” she said.
“I completely understand the team’s frustration at the situation, but I also understand that our admins have done their jobs by following the rules as it was required of them.”
But Rigilio contends the team was singled out and “judged based off of our looks”.
“The company clearly doesn’t take initiative in explaining [the automatic rejection process], which leads me to believe they don’t actually do that to everyone,” she said.
“It’s extremely upsetting and I wish we could be treated like normal people, because we are just that. Just when I thought gaming could be our outlet, we were wrong.”
She added that the gaming company should have stated in the rules that transgender women are not allowed so her team wouldn’t have “wasted our time”.
The tournament rules state that every team with five female players has the right to play.
“Due to the specific restriction of this tournament, only female players are allowed to play. If we are not sure about the gender of any player we will need an official documentation stating a players’ gender is female,” it reads.
Rigilio said it was “completely disgusting” and excluded transgender women to require the team to submit their passports.
“Gender isn’t just as simple as what was written on your old passport, there’s more to it.”
“Some of us have already started [hormone replacement therapy], and some others are fairly new to coming out and expressing themselves as a female. I know some of the girls in the group have yet to go through the trouble of getting their info changed on [their passports], so we are out of luck.”
Rozwandowicz said there had been multiple incidents of male players trying to enter female tournaments as a joke.
“As female tournaments are meant to help develop and support the female eSports scene, we are extra careful to triple-check that those who want to participate in female tournaments, are also eligible to do so,” she said.
“For the record, I am not saying that we think the team in question is trying to troll us – I am saying that the extra checks we performed on them, we performed on everyone else to ensure the competitive integrity of the tournament is safeguarded.”
In partnership with Intel, ESL founded the AnyKey organisation, which promotes diversity in esports.
The AnyKey website states it is committed to a “long term vision of a gaming community that is welcoming to all players, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, religious belief, background, or physical appearance.”