While it has recently come to the forefront, women’s esports has existed for years in regions like North America and Europe. However, Dubai-based organization Galaxy Racer Esports has committed to developing opportunities for women in professional gaming across the world. The organization currently fields five different all-women rosters across three games and several continents.
“When Galaxy Racer was launched, we started off with the biggest female esports event ever held called ‘Girl Gamer,’” CEO of Galaxy Racer Paul Roy told The Esports Observer. “The viewership we got made it clear that the female esports market is huge. The event itself was heavily invested in and got an amazing response. We also initially started off with female teams, first League of Legends in the Middle East and Europe then we picked up the best female CS:GO team, which have been with us for over a year now whereas our male teams have really only been with us for 5-6 months. We have over 50 female esport athletes who have some of the best coaching staff and have given resources such as some of the top mental sports psychologists. We want to nurture this talent to the fullest. “
Today, six of GXR’s players share their experience breaking into pro esports, the impact of an organization supporting women’s teams, and give advice to anyone seeking to follow in their footsteps.
Participants in our Q&A include:
- Donna “Kathryn” Santos, GXR Valorant SEA Female
- Amna “Moki” Raad, GXR League of Legends MENA Female Academy (the first Emirati woman pro player)
- Alanoud “Alanoud” Binshebreen, GXR League of Legends MENA Female (the first Saudi Arabian woman LoL pro)
- Ana ‘ANa’ Dumbravă, GXR CS:GO EU Female
- Ksenia “Vilga” Klyuenkova, GXR CS:GO EU Female (captain)
- Elfi “Valynora” Matrisch, GXR League of Legends MENA Female (import from Germany)
What made you want to become a professional esports athlete?
Santos: My passion in gaming is what made me want to become a professional esports athlete. Since I was a kid, I have always loved playing computer games. At first, it was just a hobby, until I realized that this is what I want to do in life. I will keep pursuing this dream and practice every day because each day is a new room for improvement.
Raad: Gaming has always been my passion since a young age – I grew up on video games mostly and all types of game genres. After I grew up and started being more into gaming, I thought “why not make something I love into a career instead of it being just a hobby?” We all never really like our jobs unless it’s something we love doing and are very passionate about. If you love something, make it a career and you will never consider yourself working another day in your life.
Binshebreen: I wasn’t expecting or thinking [about becoming a] pro, but after being recruited I thought about it and I’ve always wanted to be better at the game so it’s a nice opportunity.
Dumbravă: To be honest, I never thought that I [would] become a professional esports athlete, since I was a child my dream was to become a professional football player. Sadly, I decided to end this career because of some personal problems and right after that, I started to play a lot of games, especially Counter-Strike 1.6. Because I had many friends who were playing video games, in 2014 I discovered the CS:GO scene and since then I just kept grinding it, trying to learn new stuff every day. I do not and will never regret my choice of playing this game because I love playing it. It makes me happy and it’s my only passion that I have left.
Klyuenkova: I am a very competitive person and I always try to do the best in whatever I do. I love CS:GO, I think it’s a very complicated game to master and you can always learn something new! I was playing CS a lot when I was studying in school and gradually it turned into my profession. And now I can’t imagine my life without it.
Matrisch: I enjoy pushing myself to the limits of what is possible no matter what I do. Playing tournaments can be stressful but the adrenaline rush after winning a hard match is one of the best feelings I know.
Can you share a bit about your competitive career before joining GXR?
Santos: I’ve been playing computer games since I was eight years old. I tried a lot of different types of games, but Special Force 1 was one of my favorites and when I started playing it, I realized that first-person shooter games are my cup of tea. Until 2015 came, and then Special Force 2 was launched in the Philippines. That is when my competitive career began. For four years, I joined and won various tournaments in SF2. It is the game that made me realize that gaming is really my passion. I also played CS:GO for quite some time and joined a few international tournaments. In 2019, I quit the competitive scene because I lost interest in playing games. I didn’t have any motivation at that moment. I tried to focus more on what they call “the real life” or the life outside the gaming scene. But when Valorant was released in the Philippines, I realized that maybe I could try pro gaming one more time. So I joined the team of my ex-teammates in SF2 and we were able to win a lot of international and local tournaments. And because of our achievements, we were blessed to be part of the organization Affinity Esports. They supported us with our career but sadly, all good things must come to an end. We had to leave the organization. But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the end of our career. GXR is our new beginning. Expect for our team to come back stronger and bolder with the help of GXR family.
Raad: I was never a professional gamer before GXR appeared because where I live (UAE) did not really consider esports to be a thing. What I used to do instead is join my friends in online team tournaments that we found on websites or join 1v1 online tournaments.
Binshebreen: Non-existent, I was invited to the influencer tournament Nexus Arabia 2019 and that’s mostly it.
Dumbravă: I entered the competitive scene at the end of 2016. I was only 15 years old, young and talented, but inexperienced. I played in many teams/organizations and I participated in various important tournaments around the world (WESG, ESWC, Copenhagen Games, IEM Katowice, GirlGamer, etc.). On my path, I learned a lot of new things, gained experience, met a lot of people who helped us in improving the female scene. These things contributed to making me improve and become a better player.
Klyuenkova: I’ve been playing CS since 2005, for 16 years now. I had different teammates and different organizations. I’ve won multiple world and European championships. In the beginning of 2020 we created a new team, and in February we won the Girlgamer Festival in Dubai and later that year we were signed by Galaxy Racer. And since then we are under their wings!
Matrisch: Before joining GXR MENA [Female], I played for about two years for [Out Of the Blue]. OOB was a female Legends of Legends team sponsored by Airbus, and with that team I won every female League of Legends title that exists. I am GirlGamer World Champion 2020 as well as European GirlGamer 2020 Champion.
How has signing with GXR changed your career?
Santos: GXR gave us a new chapter in our gaming life. They serve as a motivation for our team to strive harder to become better. We look forward to everything we will learn now that we’re a part of a global organization, and to how far our careers will grow through GXR’s support.
Raad: I always dreamed of being a professional gamer and I never imagined it would happen this soon that a UAE esports organization started recruiting people from UAE – and the best part was they were looking for female gamers. I always told my family that one day I’ll be a professional gamer but I just never really knew when that would happen. But I had my hopes up. After I got recruited to GXR, it made me even more competitive than before. I was able to be known as one of the pro female gamers in the country and that opened a lot of doors for me. I even started my own twitch channel after the GirlGamer tournament ended and now stream weekly because I was confident enough to show my playstyle. I am grateful for all the experiences I got while still in GXR.
Binshebreen: It changed my life because I met amazing people and my teammates are amazing. Also to be able to inspire other girls in the region feels pretty awesome as well.
Dumbravă: Signing with GXR had many positive aspects, at least for me. Sadly,I didn’t have the necessary support from other organizations/people before and it was very hard for me to keep going. I didn’t have an income, a psychologist, a coach, a staff that cared as much as Galaxy Racer’s. Words can not explain how grateful I am to have them in this journey with my team, they are truly the best. They are one of the most professional organizations I ever encountered.
Klyuenkova: It is really hard to find a stable home for female players in esports, we were in search of organization for a very long time. Thankfully with Galaxy Racer we found it. They provide everything that a professional player needs – financial and mental support, coaching, management, and social platforms promotion. It is just nice to be able to do what you love and grow professionally.
Matrisch: I have been able to attend MENA region tournaments, which was something very new for me. With OOB it was literally just the LoL team that was under that name, with GXR I joined a family.
What are your goals as an esports pro?
Santos: My goal as an esports professional athlete is for me and my teammates’ names to be known. I want people to look up to us not only because we are good, but also because of our attitude as people.
Raad: To become one of the best female players out there, and to also show the world that girls can have talent as well when it comes to gaming. I hope to also set a foundation for girls in future generations. When I started gaming, I could not Google or find any girls that were gamers from the Middle East, I had no one to look up to. I also want to show the world that “look, a girl from the Middle East is a gamer.” People have such incorrect stereotypes when it comes to women from the Middle East.
Binshebreen: To be the best female team and to inspire other people in any way I can, and inspire other girls from not only Saudi Arabia but the entire Middle East to work hard and achieve success in the game so you can make it.
Dumbravă: Since I started, I always wanted to become a better player and help my teammates as much as I can, becoming not only good at my role but good in other roles…For a while, I’ve gotten tired of people saying that female players can’t perform as well as males. My huge goal in esports is to break the barrier between the female and male scene and show that girls are capable of becoming the best.
Klyuenkova: My goals have always been the same – to grow individually to the best female athlete in esports and as a team to break through barriers and be able to compete on the same level with male pros.
Matrisch: To defend my titles but this time with my MENA girls and to win tournaments in the mixed MENA scene.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your esports career?
Santos: The biggest lesson I have learned in my esports career is that not all people will like you. Whether you are good at playing, or you suck at it, if they don’t like you, they won’t notice your achievements. You are going to meet different types of people in the gaming scene, so being yourself is the best thing you can do.
Raad: You will face many people trying to bring you down, but you will also receive massive support from everyone around you. It is not easy becoming a professional esports player since the competition is huge and everyone wishes to be in this career. So, my lesson learned would be never give up no matter how stressful and difficult it gets sometimes and no matter how many games you end up losing, because once you succeed it will all be worth it in the end.
Binshebreen: I feel like the biggest lesson I have learned is to believe in yourself always and stand up for yourself. With success comes haters, and it is important to know not to let those haters bring you down. Also, because it is such a male-dominated industry to really stand up for yourself as a FEMALE.
Dumbravă: Playing this game, competitively, I learned a lot of important things such as communication, patience, team-play, etc. But the biggest of them all is to never give up. To keep my chin up and work harder to achieve my dreams. For me the most important thing is hard work, without it you can become a better player and a better person as well. “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself”
Klyuenkova: Hard work and dedication always pay off so never ever give up and always follow your goals and dreams. Sometimes people can turn their backs on you, but even then, listen to your inner voice and continue working hard!
Matrisch: To stay calm and level-headed in crisis situations, LoL is a game of seconds where you need to make fast decisions. I also learned how to work in a team environment that is very results driven.
What are you most proud of so far in your esports career?
Santos: What I am most proud of in my esports career was when we (my team) were invited to play a stage match in ESGS (Electronic Sports and Gaming Summit) and even won as the champion. I made my mother proud of me because of that.
Raad: That I had the opportunity to participate in GirlGamer Dubai 2019-2020. We as a team were able to show everyone in the Arab region that girls can be gamers as well and can participate in tournaments. Even though we did not win, that’s okay there’s a start for everything.
Binshebreen: It just started but I’m proud to be with the first MENA female team
Dumbravă: To be honest, the only thing that is going through my mind every time is winning the GirlGamerFestival 2020, in Dubai. There I realized how much I grew up as a player and as a teammate. I realized how grateful I am to have my amazing teammates, without them I couldn’t achieve my dream (winning my first trophy). It was one of my favorite moments in my career and I will never forget it.
Klyuenkova: Every year of my career is different. There are good times and memories, as well as bad and demotivating. I am proud about many different things. But right now I am most proud of my team and teammates, what we have achieved, and how we have grown as people and as a team. But of course, more work has to be done!
Matrisch: Winning the GG World Championship 2020
What advice would you give to young women who are thinking about pursuing the path of a pro gamer?
Santos: A little fishy once said, “just keep swimming,” and that is the same piece of advice I would give to young women who want to pursue the path of being a professional gamer. They are going to meet a lot of challenges and trials along the way. That may include their parents hindering them from playing. All they must do is to prove themselves and keep being motivated if this is really the path they will choose. And the most important of all, is that they should keep God as the center of their dreams so that they will not lose interest in pursuing their dreams.
Raad: My advice would be “Don’t let anyone bring you down, never think you’re a bad player because at some point we were all bad players and we just put in enough effort to improve and become better. Don’t be scared to be out there in front of everyone. Work hard for what you genuinely want, nothing comes easy in life. You will be facing many obstacles but please don’t let that stop you from reaching your goal. If I was able to overcome those obstacles, then so can you. We women can do the impossible. Keep your head high and smile.”
Binshebreen: It won’t be easy, and it needs determination. If you find yourself always wanting to learn and practice more, then you are on the right track. Never give up even if people around you try to bring you down.
Dumbravă: My advice to all the girls who want to pursue the path of a pro gamer is to work hard and to ignore the negative vibes that they get from the people. Like I said before, without work and passion, you will never pursue this path and you will never become a better player. I don’t believe in talented people, I believe in hard work and devotion. Also, not only in esports but in general, there will always be people who want to stop you from achieving your dreams. Because it’s a mental game, you need to have a strong and healthy mind.
Klyuenkova: Don’t let other people’s words get to you, don’t listen to bad words. There will always be negativity in any sphere of your life. Just see your big goal and go towards it step by step!
Matrisch: If you want to go pro then you have to learn to only look at your own mistakes. The best players are not the ones that complain about teammates, but play with them and focus on improving themselves. The mixed scene can be harsh but if you are interested in playing professionally the female scene can be a great way to see if you enjoy a highly competitive environment.
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