Noureen Hoq, a neuroscience and biology senior, is one of only five women in the male dominated esports department and is leading the Overwatch team to success as the team’s manager.
Hoq’s tasks include booking practices, scheduling tournaments and ensuring players’ mental health. While she previously played for the team, Hoq now focuses on her managerial role, which she said is like being a “glorified team mom”. Through the esports program, Hoq has found companionship and fun.
“Freshman year I didn’t really have any friends,” Hoq said. “I’m from Ohio originally, I kind of didn’t know anybody coming here … so I kind of was like, you know what? Heck it, I’ll join UTD [esports] and I’ll give it a shot, even though I was just a diamond player at the time. I just was trying to look for something where I knew I had something in common with people, and I wanted a family so I was like, [UTD esports] might be the thing for me.”
Though there are a few other women throughout the esports department, Hoq is the only one on the Overwatch team. And despite the fact that she loves her teammates, Hoq said that being surrounded by men all the time can be a challenge.
“Honestly, sometimes it can get overwhelming … like the mannerisms and the way they speak … I’m not trying to generalize all men here, but sometimes it can just feel a little suffocating,” Hoq said. “And you wish it was a little bit more feminine energy, like a little bit more of a safer space … I love my boys to death. I would literally give my life for them, but sometimes, it’s just that gentleness that you can’t find everywhere.”
Though Hoq has never felt left out in her team, she said that there were individuals in her early gaming experiences that made her question if she was only being talked to because of her gender, causing her to feel targeted. These targeted experiences are common to many women in gaming communities, and Hoq said that it could cause girls to hesitate in joining esports.
“Let’s say you’re not particularly good at a game or casual or something like that, like plenty of men are. Then you’re just going to get targeted for that and it’s going to be pinned on your gender,” Hoq said. “And that’s the only thing people will focus on. Or the other hand where you are good at the game and then people can’t focus on anything … what if you just get sexualized and you can’t enjoy anything because of your gender expression?”
Hoq said these experiences can make it hard to enjoy video games, as in some households, women are discouraged from pursuing gaming. Despite this culture, however, Hoq said UTD esports has highlighted the girls on their teams and ensured that they feel welcome and accepted.
“I think the esports program has actually been doing a great job of elevating us and making us seen and heard and present,” Hoq said. “Making us visible to the general public and showing the work that we do, not just our faces, I think that’s super important too. Not to just say, ‘here, we have women, we’ve hired them, they’re our diversity hiring, they’re here,’ but actually showing the work that we do, the numbers we put up, how our teams value us and showing our worth beyond just being a pretty face.”
Hoq said UTD esports should continue highlighting the women on their teams for the work that they do. However, Hoq said that beyond UTD, the world of gaming can be a toxic environment for women that holds back talented individuals. Hoq said that if you see a woman getting harassed in a video game, there are ways to stand up against the harmful culture.
“The best thing to do is, even if you get called a white knight or anything, speak up. Most of the time, bystanders are just as bad as the perpetrators,” Hoq said. “If you see anybody — it doesn’t have to be a woman — get disrespected for no reason, just ‘cause, we’re online doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly a space to do that. So just stand up for what you think is right and be vocal about it. I think that would make people feel a lot more welcome in this space and feel valued …”
The men on UTD’s Overwatch team, according to Hoq, have helped with a welcoming environment. Despite being the only women on her team, Hoq has proven that it is entirely possible to end discrimination and bullying against women in gaming.
“I think UTD, at least my boys, they do a great job of that. They’ve made me feel welcome at every turn,” Hoq said. “Any time I face adversity or discrimination, they have been loud and proud about the value I bring to their lives. So I would like for every man, everybody out there to do that, to be the same kind of bodyguard for the important people in their lives.”