ESports Expert Buckness Sees A Level Playing Field For Female Gamers

The former Halo pro gamer Doug Fleming has watched many females succeed in the male-dominated eSports arena over the years.

Doug Fleming is known as “Buckness” to eSports fans. The 27-year-old pro gamer from Oceanside, CA has played Halo competitively over the years. These days, he’s working with Astro Gaming within eSports and is also working on becoming a pro League of Legends player. Fleming reached out to me after he read the Kelly Kelley interview on females in pro gaming and wanted to offer a male perspective on the opportunities eSports has opened up for gamers of both sexes. He explains why we’ll see more females integrated into pro gaming teams in this exclusive interview.

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How did you get involved in eSports?

Fleming: “I got involved with eSports when I was 16 years old. I played Halo 2 when it was around its prime in MLG. I was also very into Madden football and watched the Madden Challenge, as well. My good friend Ben Jackson was on a pro Halo team and the more I played with him, the more I got into Halo and wanted to get better and be a part of the scene.”

Can you discuss your career thus far?

Fleming: “My career in eSports has been a pretty fun one. I’ve played in tons of tournaments around the world. Although I haven’t taken any championships, I have had some pretty consistent results over the years. I’ve also networking with a lot of different gaming companies to be able to reach my goal, which is to ultimately be able to help push eSports to a new high. I currently help Astro Gaming at major gaming conventions and act as an ambassador for them as well.

What have been some of the keys to your longevity in eSports?

Fleming: “The biggest thing is my ability to network and also the knowledge I have about eSports. Of all the people I know in eSports, I think I know more about it both here in the US and overseas then anybody. That has definitely helped me stay relevant, being able to talk about eSports on a player level and a business level. I also think I’ve been around for so long because of the pride I take in being a part of the eSports community. I’m always explaining and telling people about the ins and outs of eSports and explaining things they may not understand about a game they don’t play or a player they don’t know. I love talking about eSports and I love spreading knowledge about it.

How have you seen eSports evolve over that time?

Fleming: “When I first saw eSports it was in a little convention center in a not so big hotel. Then I started seeing it in bigger venues. At that time there wasn’t really any streaming, so if you wanted to watch your favorite player it had to be live. Then Tournament sites started streaming their tournaments on websites like MLG, WCG and CGS. All of a sudden I was watching Halo on USA network and I was really excited because we were one step away from being a real sport and running television. When I saw ESPN get involved with MLG I was pumped because what better way to portray eSports then ESPN. I honestly thought that it was going to be the peak. When Riot Games sold out the Staples Center I thought, “we have arrived.” It’s just amazing to me to see that at one point as gamers we barely filled a conference room and now we are selling out stadiums. It’s just amazing to me.

How have you seen female pro gamers compete against the guys over the years?

Fleming: “I’ve seen a lot of girls come into eSports and get eaten alive and I’ve seen a lot of girls destroy a lot of guys consistently. Although sometimes it seems like girls are inferior in eSports, this is untrue. The girls that stay motivated and hungry are the ones who have stuck out and dominated the scene, whether they won a championship or not. Some girls have closed the gap in this male-dominated sport overall. Although there hasn’t been a wave of dominance where all you see is girls winning, for the most part a lot of guys know which ones are a threat and have started to treat them and respect those girls accordingly.

What opportunities do you feel eSports opens up for both sexes?

Fleming: “It gives both sexes a chance to work with the companies that they love, whether it is community management, event staff, game testing, booth modeling, designing, or selling merchandise. This ultimately lets them stay around the things they love, which are games and eSports.  The dream goal for most people is to be able to work for the company that makes their favorite game or their former sponsors. Nowadays companies are looking at the ex-pros and super fans — both male and female — who have made a sizable dent in their games community so the company is able market to fans and consumers they maybe couldn’t reach before. If eSports wasn’t as big as it is now, companies wouldn’t be as willing to look at someone with just hands-on experience instead of someone who is fresh out of college with a degree. ESports has definitely opened the doors for people to transition from player to working on the back-end. You have Bravo, who was a pro Halo coach for the top teams now working for 343, you have Xena who was the first Halo pro now working for Bungie, you have the Frag Dolls who now work for Ubisoft, and you have Combofiend, a pro gamer in the fighting game community now working for Capcom. And that’s just a few.”

What are some successful female pros that stick out in your mind?

Fleming: “The biggest ones who stick out to me are the ones who either changed the game, set a standard, or did something no one ever thought was possible because they were female, or put fear in male opponents. There have been a good 50, but a few that are my favorites are Bittersweet, Xena, Smiley, Miss Harvey, Madelisk, Scarlet, Kayane, Hafu and Pixxel.”

What are your thoughts on what Kelly Kelley said about the hardships of females competing in eSports today?

Fleming: “This is a sensitive subject because it can be taken the wrong way by one group of female gamers and embraced by another group of female gamers. It’s harder for the females that don’t want to work for it and cut corners or expect to be handed shortcuts because they are female. This sport has never been easy to break into — not even for the guys. Girls are treated just like how the pros treat amateurs because you have to prove yourself. You can’t expect to just gain respect because you won a show or you sometimes play in a pro lobby, get Twitch viewers or you dated somebody that has a sizable reputation. It has to be consistent. For some females to only say ‘it’s hard for girls’ is an excuse to a certain extent. The ones who put in 8+ hours a days and the ones who are making the results slowly but surely on LAN are the ones who are getting the respect. Guys are going to respect the female gamer who shows that they are willing to work and grind not the female gamer who hits a certain point and then has their hand out looking for handouts. I’ve seen a lot of them do that and wonder why they are not taken seriously. The way certain females carry themselves at events plays a part to because if you have a reputation as someone who’s there the event after party and not to compete and do well, we all see that. Nothing worth fighting for is easy and if being pro is something you really want, you have to go through the dirt before any success. And that goes for everyone, not just female gamers.”

Do you think a female pro gaming league like the WNBA would work?

Fleming: “I think they would work.There are a good amount of leagues for female pros now like Ironlady, and Zowie tournaments for Starcraft. I don’t think it will be on the same scale as the leagues we have now, just like the WNBA isn’t on the same scale as the NBA. But people will still watch it because it’s still eSports and it would be supported.”

How do you see things evolving moving forward with pro gaming between the sexes?

Fleming: “ESports will still be male dominant but more and more female gamers will start to show face, wanting to be taken seriously and showing their skills that demand respect. We will see more mixed teams as the gap closes, but I don’t think we will see a consistently dominant all-female team in League of Legends or Call of Duty anytime soon.”

More than any other traditional sport, does eSport offer a truly level playing field in which female pros could play with and against guys?

Fleming: “The playing field — as far as resources and tools to be pro — is level. We have the same console, games, controller, keyboards and mouse. If you put in work, you will get results. And that goes for both sides. If female gamers put in work like the guys they want to beat, then it will show. There’s no cheat codes to give advantages in skill. It all comes down to a matter of mental expertise.”

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John Gaudiosi
John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN. He's EIC of video game site