5-time eSports world champ challenges 'boys' club' of competitive gaming

​Stephanie Harvey is a five-time world champion in her sport. The professional athlete has managers, a team, regular practices, tournaments and sponsors. But there are two big differences between her and a hockey star — her competitions take place entirely online, and they get more viewers than the NHL playoffs.

Professional Counter-Strike player Stephanie Harvey attends Calgary Expo

Stephanie Harvey aka 'missharvey' plays Counter-Strike:Global Offensive at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo on Saturday. (Francois Joly/Radio-Canada)

​Stephanie Harvey is a five-time world champion in her sport. The professional athlete has managers, a team, regular practices, tournaments and sponsors. 

But there are two big differences between her and a hockey star — her competitions take place entirely online, and they get more viewers than the NHL playoffs. 

Harvey, who goes by the screen name missharvey, is a competitive Counter-Strike:Global Offensive player.

She said it's not always easy being a woman in a male-dominated industry, but she doesn't peg the difficulties just to the stereotypes around gaming culture.

Competitive Counter-Strike:Global Offensive player Stephanie Harvey is at the Calgary Expo this weekend. (Submitted by Stephanie Harvey)

"It's still a boys' club, so as a woman, you're automatically judged for being different," Harvey told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday, in advance of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo where she'll be doing an official meet-and-greet with fans on Saturday at 11 a.m.

"I like to say it's more a generation and society problem than a gaming problem. It's so easy behind your monitor to say whatever you want without any consequences … anybody that's different gets attacked easier online, and because I'm a woman in a male-dominated world that's what people pick on."

The 32-year-old Quebecer holds an international bachelor's degree in architecture, a diploma in video game design and is a former game designer at Ubisoft Montreal. She's the co-founder of online community Misscliks, which aims to address the underrepresentation of women in geek culture.

"I had to build a really strong shell to be able to succeed," she said.

Women underrepresented in esports

Global eSports revenues are predicted to grow to from $696 million in 2017 to $1.5 billion by 2020, according to market research company Newzoo. The agency says 71 per cent of the eSports audience are men.

Few statistics exist as to the percentage of women that make up the ranks of professional gamers — Harvey estimates women make up between five and 10 per cent of professional Counter-Strike players — but there are numbers showing a sharp divide between earnings of male and female eSports players.

​Stephanie Harvey is a five-time world champion. (Submitted by Stephanie Harvey)

"In the development area and also the competitive area, it's really male dominated," Harvey said, adding that female players in Counter-Strike are a rare sight. "It's not that common, especially because it's a very old-school game so it doesn't really attract the new generation, the new wave of mainstream gamers."

The top 100 male eSports players all have earned more than $500,000, with the top 48 earning more than $1 million, according to community-run site e-Sports Earnings, which uses publicly-available data to compile its rankings. As for the top 100 women, only 14 have earned more than $25,000, and just two have earned more than $100,000.

Harvey is ranked 12th on that list.

The game Harvey plays, Counter-Strike, is a first person shooter that started out as a mod — or alteration — of the video game Half-Life. The games are ranked based on whoever gets the most points in each match, with players acting as either a terrorist or counter-terrorist.

She said for her, the game never gets old — she loves the competition and the team work.

"For me, it's a fully-fleshed game just like hockey or football is," she said. "Throughout the years, there are meta changes for players' strategy; the game itself stays pure."

Harvey will be at the Calgary Expo until Sunday as an ambassador for OMEN by HP. She's the first eSports player to partner with HP Canada. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener