Who wouldn’t want to get paid to play video games all day? Being a professional e-sports athlete sounds like a dream job—that is, until you realize just how grueling it can be.
High-level professional gamers practice and strategize from sunup to sundown, hitting pause only for sleeping, eating and the occasional bit of socializing. Life can be just as tough as that of a pro athlete in a more mainstream sport, albeit without the fame, million-dollar paychecks and players’ unions to match.
That hasn’t slowed down Kim Se-yeon, 19, better known by her gamer nickname “Geguri,” a misspelling of the Korean word for “frog.” Born in the South Korean city of Daejeon, she started playing games with her mom when she was just 5 years old. Today, she plays for the Shanghai Dragons in the Overwatch League, a professional e-sports league produced by Overwatch developer Blizzard Entertainment. Overwatch is a popular team-based shooter, in which players pick characters with different skills (soldier, medic, tank and so on) and cooperate with one another to achieve an objective, like escorting cargo to a particular location before time runs out. Geguri started her Overwatch career playing as the character Zarya (her “main,” in gamer parlance), a powerful tank who can absorb incoming blows and redirect them toward her opponents in the form of a laser beam.
It’s a fitting role for Geguri, who, as a rare woman in a world dominated by men, has had to deflect more than her fair share of attacks. In 2016, as Geguri was rising to fame in smaller Overwatch leagues thanks in part to her impeccable aim, she was accused of using automatic aiming software—cheating, in other words. That’s a cardinal sin in the gaming world—one that, if true, can get a pro player booted from their league permanently. It’s not a charge to be thrown around lightly.
Geguri was cleared of the accusations after an investigation by Blizzard, the American game developer. Several players who first lobbied the charges reportedly left the competitive Overwatch scene shortly thereafter. But the episode clearly took an emotional toll. “The one thing I learned after the hacking incident is that you should never accuse somebody without proper proof,” says Geguri, who spoke with TIME through a translator. “I was able to get through this whole fiasco with the help and support of my teammates at the time.”
Geguri has been reluctant to embrace the role of trailblazer. She prefers instead to focus on the immediate mission at hand: helping her Dragons recover from their winless first season in the Overwatch League (the team suffered a 42-game losing streak, though they’re fairing better this season, with a 6-6 record.) And who can blame her? After all, none of her male colleagues have to worry about representing an entire gender.
Still, she’s increasingly aware that she has a role to play in the world of competitive esports that goes beyond winning games. “Since I am the only female player in the whole league, I think there are a lot of people who look up to me and see me as a role model,” says Geguri. “Knowing this, I’m trying a lot harder to inspire others to get to where I am today.”
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