By Julius Tabios
In the spirit of International Women's Day, we spoke with a few female gaming & esports personalities from Southeast Asia whose pursuit of their passion has led to a successful career. By leading by example, Riku, Jia and Sherlin are setting the stage for new waves of female gamers, casters, analysts and fans to enjoy the sheer fun and excitement of esports.
Versatile caster Rikki 'Riku' Quiapon credits her dad for introducing her to the world of video games from a young age, with PlayStation classics such as Crash Bandicoot and Resident Evil. This passion for gaming stuck with Riku through the years. While studying at university, she took on voice acting jobs for Tagalog anime dubs which allowed her to buy her own gaming PC.
Her first taste of esports came from her love of League of Legends, watching the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) on Twitch. Riku devoured esports, going as far as to adjust her body clock to European times just to keep updated.
When she heard about Garena's casting call for the Pro Gaming Series (the Philippines' own version of the LCS), she took a leap of faith, leading her to become a regular face in the local League of Legends scene thanks to her game knowledge and loveable charm.
But that was just the start for Riku. In 2016 she casted her first international tournament, in Taiwan. This opened up a floodgate of opportunities, including an offer from Blizzard to become a regular caster for Heroes of the Storm in 2017.
In 2018 Blizzard flew her to California for Blizzcon 2018 as one of Southeast Asia's official influencers, alongside Singaporean caster Afiz. Later that year it was Las Vegas, at the invitation of Riot Games, to be part of All-Star 2018, a League of Legends event. There she met superstar Faker – a surreal moment, she says.
Riku herself has role models in the industry. "I am happy there are more women that are amazing in their field and continue to inspire the next generation of talents," she says. "I look up to Gillyweed, Sjokz, Ovilee and Froskurinn a lot and their influence helps me push myself further."
Words of wisdom: "To my fellow women who want to pursue the gaming/esports industry, we've got your back! Figure out which direction in gaming and esports you want to go for and focus on that! It's about passion, dedication, consistency and studying creative trends (if you're a creator/streamer). Watch how top-tier talents do their work, read articles about their journey and look for ways to improve your craft (if you're a broadcast talent) – this will really help boost your growth! Don't forget to have fun!"
Jia Dee wanted to be a scientist when she took up molecular biology at the University of the Philippines, one of the country's top schools. But as fate would have it, a friend introduced Jia to Hearthstone shortly after she finished high school. She was instantly hooked. Within a couple of weeks she'd already achieved a higher rank in the digital card game than said friend.
But that wasn't the start of Jia's relationship with video games. It was her older brother, Francis, whom she credits with getting her hooked. What started as a casual interest in fighting games and RPGs eventually became the fondest memories of her childhood. Jia credits competing with her brother – as well as dabbling in Yu-Gi-Oh! and the Pokémon TCG – as the driving force that eventually sparked her interest in card games and esports.
During her third year of university, Jia dabbled in small weekly Hearthstone tournaments at a local board game café. She nabbed a good number of 1st and 2nd place finishes in her time, eventually being invited to cast the Mineski Pro Gaming League's Hearthstone finals at an annual esports convention. There she would meet and impress tournament organizers, who passed her name onto Blizzard Southeast Asia. It didn't take Blizzard long to recognize Jia's talent for analysis and give her a shot on the big stage. She casted the Hearthstone Malaysia Major in December 2016.
That's a wrap on Hearthstone at the 18th Asian Games! I'm incredibly grateful to have been a part of this event. 🙏— Jia (@jiadee_) August 31, 2018
Congratulations once again to Kin0531, @joth703, and @gcttirth! pic.twitter.com/TV9aYVOkPZ
Jia would go on to become a regular talent for Hearthstone events within Asia-Pacific, notably casting at six stops of the Hearthstone Championship Tour in 2018, as well as the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia. But this wasn't her biggest achievement. In late 2018, she would compete in the second World Series of Esports (WSOE): the Hearthstone showdown. She was up against some of Hearthstone's biggest stars, but in the end it was Jia who took home the grand prize.
Jia has proved that women can make it in the esports world, whether as a talent or a player. For now, the future looks bright for her as she sets her eyes on the cards. Though she can't divulge details, she hints that Hearthstone fans will be seeing much more of her later this year.
Words of wisdom: "When you're a woman who plays games, at some point someone has probably belittled you or invalidated you. Maybe they assumed some guy was carrying you, or told you that you can't play anything except support. But the truth is, no matter man or woman, if you have enjoyed a game, then you are a gamer. And like all gamers, with time and practice you can get to the next level. Whether it be competing, casting or even supportive as a viewer, just go for it! We need you!"
AKA BabyShark, Sherlin Tsu grew up in the Indonesian city of Medan, and began playing video games at the age of seven, starting with PlayStation and Nintendo. She tried her first-ever online game with Audition, a casual rhythm game. After high school, Sherlin took up communication broadcasting at Binus University in Jakarta with the hopes of being on TV.
Rather than going down the TV-star road, she's become a popular figure on computer screens and phones across Indonesia. She started playing Mobile Legends in 2016, before the mobile MOBA game reached its current heights. This skyrocketed her to popularity gaining thousands of fans on her Facebook and Instagram. Sherlin has gone on to become a regular face in Indonesia's Mobile Legends scene, whether as an influencer, cosplayer or caster.
Sherlin is also a strong Mobile Legends player. Her rank, Mythic Glory, is the highest achievable, and she peaked as one of the top Angela players. Rounding out her list of achievements are her roles as official influencer of Moonton (the creator of Mobile Legends), and brand ambassador of Boom ID, a prominent Indonesian esports organization.
Sherlin believes the current push in various esports to create segregated female esports tournaments would be a step in the right direction. She shares some advice for other women who wonder about getting into esports and gaming:
Words of wisdom: "Dear ladies, just choose properly which part of esports (whether as a talent or as a caster) that you wanna get into, improve your skill on that, and keep doing that constantly until you get to where you want to be – never give up!
Esports is a small community right now, so if you break into it make sure you hold on to it tight. You don't have to be in front of the camera and you can work behind the scenes as well. The opportunities are limitless! Don't look down on yourself, because I believe women can do as well as men. Let's break this status quo of esports together!"
Riku, Jia and Sherlin are just three examples of women slaying it in the growing esports scene. From top-level analysis to infectious enthusiasm and skilled gameplay, there's a niche for everyone. As #BalanceforBetter, this year's International Women's Day theme, reminds us: more female participation in esports will only make the industry stronger and the scene more vibrant. Now that's something worth fighting for.