NAIROBI – As the first Kenyan to be signed by top e-sports companies XiT Woundz and UYU, Sylvia Gathoni is used to vanquishing opponents with a combination of frenzied kicks and punches in the male-dominated video game tournament circuit.
But the 24-year-old law graduate, now one of the first e-sports athletes to make the Forbes list of global trailblazers, is as committed to flooring adversaries with words in her quest to be defined on her own terms.
“I insist on being recognised as an e-sport athlete, not a female e-sport athlete,” she said at a gaming parlour in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
“I bring my mental strengths to the table, not my physical strengths, and that way it shouldn’t be segregated (by) gender.”
QueenArrow, as Gathoni is known in the gaming world, found early success fighting as the character Ling Xiaoyu, a pig-tailed Chinese teen, in the hand-to-hand combat game Tekken, winning her first major competition in 2019.
She has continued to rise through the ranks, earning money, fame and influence.
For Mary Wanjiku, a supervisor at the Tric Gaming Cafe in Nairobi, Gathoni has helped kicked down the door for other young women in an overwhelmingly male arena.
“QueenArrow is one of the most influential gamers,” Wanjiku said.
Her success has helped assuage her parents’ concerns in a country where gaming retains social stigma.
“They were reluctant for me to get into e-sports because they didn’t fully understand what e-sports was all about… but they have been more accommodating, especially with recent accolades and achievements,” she said.
Freshly graduated, Gathoni said her law degree is more than sideline. She wants to use it to change legislation to improve the reputation of the gaming industry.
“The laws and the policies don’t help matters, because it also (feeds) the perception that, you know, gaming is gambling.”