Sue Min “Smix” Lee (left) interviews Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn (right) after a winning match at Red Bull Battle Grounds.
Professional video game player Won “PartinG” Lee Sak may have earned first place in Red Bull Battle Grounds this weekend, but it was his competitor Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn who stole the spotlight at the “StarCraft II” tournament in New York.
Whether it was taking the stage during player introductions, plugging in her keyboard to prepare for a match or upsetting recent World Champion Choi “Bomber” Ji Sung to win a place in the semi-finals, Hostyn constantly received rapturous applause from the audience and more of it than any of the other seven players in the competition. It seemed as though everyone in Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom and even those watching the live stream were rooting for Hostyn to win, although she ended up placing third.
With eSports dominated by South Korean heterosexual men, Hostyn stands out as a Canadian transgender woman. It’s those differences, in addition to her skills as a pro gamer, that make her a fan favorite.
"I think she’s kicking ass," said Battle Grounds audience member Laura Jones, a 28-year-old lawyer from Harlem. "She’s not really losing confidence because she’s the underdog, which is really cool."
After some speculation, Hostyn publicly announced her identity as a transgender woman in April 2012, saying that she just wanted to be recognized for her game play and that she didn’t “feel like this should be a big deal,” according to GlobalPost. She hasn’t received the same kindness on the Internet as she did during Battle Grounds. Several commenters on a video interview with KhaldorTV posted March 23, for instance, say she is actually a man, criticize her lifestyle and insult her appearance.
Still, “StarCraft” player and Battle Grounds spectator Andrew Hoefel said the gaming community generally supports Hostyn, which could be seen through the massive amount of cheering she received from the tournament crowd.
"In the ‘StarCraft’ community, the general consensus is it really makes no difference," said Hoefel, a 27-year-old from Bayonne, N.J. who works in property preservation. "Once in a while, a guy will try to be funny. It’s just the way the Internet is."
Hostyn’s status as a transgender woman seems to be fairly well known in the gaming community. However, audience member Jonathan Abbot, 19, who is a fan of Hostyn’s, said he didn’t know she was transgender. When the Southern Connecticut State University student heard the news, he seemed unfazed.
"I think the only thing that matters is the game to me," Abbot said. "It doesn’t matter what she does in her free time, as long as she’s not hurting anyone."