The guitar heroine

The Charlatan’s Juanita Bawagan talks gaming, girls, and guitar hero with Ciji “Starslay3r” Thornton.

The Charlatan (TC): How did you first develop an interest in video games?

Ciji “Starslay3r” Thornton (CT): I started playing games around four or so years of age because my parents bought me a Nintendo. It started off as a learning experience but later developed into somewhat of an addiction as I got older.

TC: Why did you start taking competitive gaming more seriously in the last four years?

CT: It all started with a series of tournaments called the Midnight Gaming Championship in Dallas, Texas in 2006. I moved to Dallas and at the time just started getting back into Guitar Hero, so when I was contacted about the series of tournaments I grabbed my guitar and ran out to compete every Saturday. After placing top 16 in the state finals for my first serious tournament ever, I decided that I should sit down and practice to see exactly how far I could take it.

TC: Were people always supportive of your career choice as a professional gamer?

CT: No. I think two of the people most against it were my parents. Once I decided that professional gaming was a path I wanted to pursue, my dad especially tried to steer me away from it. It’s understandable, considering four years ago the only really well known pro gamer was Fatal1ty and it’s not like my dad knew him. It was something that wasn’t very secure, and a path my dad was just worried about me taking, but once he saw me on TV I think he started to accept my choice.

TC: I understand that you were doing a major in marketing at the University of Phoenix but took a leave of absence for professional gaming. How have you incorporated these studies with what you are currently doing?

CT: I learned how to mesh my love and talent for gaming with my love and extensive history with marketing into something that is fun, and I’m able to earn money while doing it. The fact that I have a lot of experience with marketing has enabled me to work with a lot of gaming companies doing work in the industry that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was just a pro gamer.

TC: What advantages and disadvantages are there to being a female pro gamer?

CT: Since there are so few female gamers that can actually play at a professional level, it really draws attention to a female gamer when they are doing well . . . They are often approached more often by companies for sponsorships or to join a team.
The problem is that guys will often discredit girls for doing well and call them “attention whores” and the like. Basically, if any girl is doing well in the industry people see it as a means to get attention, because everyone knows that a girl who is actually even halfway decent at games gets 10 times more attention than any guy out there.

TC: How do you feel about your role as a successful female in a male-dominated sport?

CT: I don’t really like to put the main focus on the fact that I am a female gamer, but it’s often something that is brought up because of the fact that there aren’t as many female gamers that are doing well in the industry. . .  I just hope that one day the gaming community will be evenly split 50/50 so that we can stop focusing on the fact that someone is a female gamer, and more on their individual skills as a gamer in general.

TC: Why do you think there is less female representation at the professional level?

CT: Guys seem to be more accepting and even driven to become a professional gamer and I think oftentimes girls may look at the fact that it’s so male-dominated and become discouraged, thinking that they’d never make it, or they just get discouraged by people on a daily basis when just playing games for fun. Female gamers put up with a lot of harassment.
For example, because I’m a female gamer and I actually have the skills to back up being called a “pro gamer” over just a “casual gamer,” I get a lot of crap from the gaming community.
It’s sad, but I think some guys are just scared to have females coming into their territory, so to speak, so it makes it hard for a female to be successful in certain genres of games. Guys really don’t like to give a female gamer the respect they deserve for certain games specifically.

TC: What misconceptions do you think people have about professional gamers?

CT: I think people often assume that a professional gamer is some overweight, unattractive guy that spends all day playing, has no friends and is socially awkward. Luckily, these days I think we’re helping to break those stereotypes by showing that the average professional gamer is actually very fit, attractive, sometimes a female, has a ton of friends both in person and on social networks, is often media trained, very friendly, practices a lot but still has a social life, and is just like your next door neighbour.

TC: What is it about video games that has made you so dedicated to them?

CT: I just enjoy them. I can’t really describe it. I would rather play video games than go to a movie. There are so many levels to video games. I can play a game that feels like an interactive movie.

TC: You have travelled across the globe, been a model and a race car driver, on top of being a professional gamer, but what is next for you now?

CT: I like to call it “world domination.” I have this plan of opening my own business. . . and I want to go global with it. It’s going to take a long time, but I believe I can do it.