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Bahraini eSports professional athlete Maryam Maher, better known by her handle “Mary Gaming” is seeing a stronger viewership of her Fortnite adventures amid the current Covid-19 lockdown, as she continues to break down barriers for female gamers across the region.
The teenager, who is the first female gamer in the Middle East to sign with a professional eSports team, has already won a host of Fortnite tournaments and exclusive partnerships on Twitch, netting more than USD50,000(BD18,400) since 2017.
Maher told GulfWeekly: “I got into gaming at a very young age. I started playing video games with my cousins which is when my first obsession with gaming started. We used to sit in the living room from 2 pm till midnight just playing video games. We used to play GTA, Midnight Club or Bully.”
About three years ago, Maher discovered Fortnite, an online game during which players collect basic resources and then use these to build fortifications while combating up to 100 competitors in a battle royale type arena.
Then, about two years ago, Maher uploaded footage of herself taking out 24 opponents in a row, attracting over 85,000 views and the attention of the professional gaming community in the Middle East.
Maher added: “When it was announced that the game will have in-game tournaments and prize pool, I started to practice daily and work on myself and my mistakes. I also found the gaming scene in Bahrain through friends and events such as Comic-Con, Animania and Dreamland Expo. Finding the gaming scene in the Middle East was easy through social media.”
Since then, the teenager has worked on creating content for her YouTube channel and streaming on Twitch, today boasting 146,000 subscribers on YouTube and 39,100 followers on Twitch.
Maher has also differentiated herself from other creators by commenting and responding, almost exclusively in Arabic, a conscious choice to promote gaming in the region, with support and encouragement from her parents.
“My parents always knew what I did and they always supported me and inspired me to keep going,” she said, “Their reaction was an unexplainable excitement. They will always be proud of who I am now.”
While the gender ratio of male and female participation in video games is roughly equal, professional eSports are dominated by men, who take up 95% of the spots. Within Fortnite as well, last year’s World Cup did not have a single female competitor amongst the finalists. Even amongst Maher’s following, 87% are male and only 13% female.
Advocates for greater female representation at the professional level attribute this to gendered advertising, social stereotyping, lack of female video game creators and especially, the online abuse to which female eSports athletes are subjected.
Maher noted: “Hate will always be there usually stemming either from jealousy or gender. A lot has changed. Female gamer communities are starting to grow more and more with time. People are starting to accept women in the gaming scene. But as I mentioned, hate will always be there no matter what happens.
“From my experience, your experience as gamer depends on who you should and shouldn’t trust especially when it’s online. We don’t really know who we talk to behind the screen. I don’t really see anything scary but limits are set when it comes to meeting new people.”
Maher hopes to change this landscape as she continues to compete globally as the region’s first female gamer to be a part of professional eSports team Nasr eSports and sponsored by Lenovo Legion. Last winter, Lenovo launched the Legion Girl Cup, an event aimed at encouraging female gamers in the region to compete professionally.
Of course, this will not be easy as she trains five to six hours a day regularly and in the current lockdown, she has been training for eight to nine hours a day.
Despite all this training and the online following, she sees her backup career in a completely different field. She told another media outlet that her fall-back is law, exhibiting a unique maturity and proactive thinking outside the box of competitive online gaming.
Check out Mary Gaming’s online pursuits on Twitch: @mary and Instagram: @marygamingyt