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Sylvia Gathoni


Sylvia Gathoni: Kenya's First Female Pro Gamer

Where gaming and law meets

BY Agnes Amondi

Sep 19, 2022, 10:35 AM

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Sylvia Gathoni
2018 was a groundbreaking year for Sylvia Gathoni. She became the first professional gamer in Kenya to be signed by a professional ESports outfit, XiT Gaming based in New Jersey, United States.

This piece of history arrived shortly after her participation in two local gaming events in 2017 and 2018. In that order, these were the Mortal Kombat tournament at the Inaugural East Africa Gaming Convention (EAGC) and the Tekken 254 Circuit.
“I’ve always enjoyed gaming. Being a university student with too much idle time outside of studying makes you want to find constructive ways to fill it up. I figured I could use gaming to challenge myself because I enjoy competing which is why I applied for the Mortal Kombat tournament.”

“I then signed up for the Tekken tournament which the East Africa Gaming Convention hosted. The competition organizer Davy Kamanzi introduced me to the Tekken community in Kenya. I readily joined as I was already looking for gaming tournaments in Nairobi.”
For those not familiar with esports, Mortal Kombat and Tekken are fighting games where players take on each other in a tournament, usually in the presence of a live audience. But did she see this coming? 
“Honestly, I had no plans of going into professional gaming because I never thought I’d have the same opportunities, especially coming from an underrepresented and overlooked region. And at least now I know that anything is possible if you believe in it.”
Has it always been about gaming for Sylvia or the Queen Arrow, as she’s popularly known within gaming circles? Why the name Queen Arrow?
“I've been gaming since I was three years old thanks to the influence from my older brother and cousin who were (and still are) avid gamers. I particularly enjoy the element of embodying a character and their story. This allows me to explore different dynamics,
"Not to mention that games can teach you things that you wouldn't necessarily learn in school. For instance, the different places of the world. Playing Tomb Raider taught me about Prague. Who would have thought?”
 “The name Queen Arrow pays homage to my favourite comic book character Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. I was a huge fan of the series “Arrow” back in high school. I took his last name Queen and his pseudonym as the Arrow to create “Queen Arrow.”

Unconventional combination

It’s always interesting to think about what your favourite sports star might have pursued if they were not pro athletes. That’s not the case with Queen Arrow. She is a lawyer by training having pursued a law degree at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). 
For those who might raise eyebrows because of this unusual combination, Queen Arrow understands perfectly well where the intersection between gaming and law is.
“There is a correlation between policy and growth across all industries but here I’m particularly focused on the gaming industry. As a result, I want to use my law degree in pioneering policy changes that will favour the industry and ensure its growth.”
 “Kenya's eSports industry is on the rise. We still have a long way to go even as more players and stakeholders come into the fold and one of the things the industry must do is to ensure that gaming can be a stable income-earning activity for all its practitioners.”

Inside Pro Gaming

Contrary to what you might think about pro gaming, it needs maximum attention and commitment just like any other sporting activity. physically immersive sporting activities. So what does esports training involve? 
“First of all, being a pro gamer means tons of practice as well as treating your body like a temple just like any other regular athlete would. Moreover, it also means building your brand and content creation is one way of doing that. This is important as it allows gamers to make a living as well as provide exposure to the underrepresented communities.”
“When it comes to training, my routine consists of perfecting my game movement, looking through my gameplay to see what scenarios and moves failed me. I then work on recreating them in practice mode to ensure I don't fall prey to them again in a real match.”

There is a wide genre of video games to choose from. From sandbox to real-time strategy to multiplayer online battle arena and more as this article indicates. Queen Arrow specializes in Tekken 7 which falls under the action-adventure genre. 
“I play Tekken 7. It's a 3D game by Bandai Namco. Honestly, it’s one of the most challenging games I've had to play. It rewards legacy gameplay not to mention having to practice for every single scenario that you can.”
“When I started, there was a lot to wrap my head around. For example, the gaming terminologies being applied. I was so overwhelmed but then, in time, I grasped what the words mean and how they are used in the game. That gave me lots of motivation to keep going and here I am now.” 

The Gaming Industry

Sylvia Gathoni
It doesn’t require mentioning that esports is a male-dominated profession. Queen Arrow has, on numerous occasions, been the only woman in the room, something she attributes to the fact that she is one of the first to venture into gaming in this part of the world.  
“My experience has been for the most part good albeit with some challenges. Not everyone believes you are where you are because of your skills and hard work. They attribute it to other factors, for example, my gender, which is certainly not the case.” 
“Another challenge is that it’s not easy to come by someone who shares similar experiences. Being a pioneer in the field means that you have to hold space for yourself and for others who’ll come after you.”
“As for representation, there aren’t many women in the industry due to a toxic culture that deliberately works on excluding people who are not straight and not male. Moreover, the marketing of these games and tournaments is done in a manner that is not inclusive at all. This makes it difficult for women to want to be part of the industry. Plus, women have been socialized to the idea that games and tech are “male things”.”
Another damming issue plaguing the gaming industry is its lack of racial diversity. As she’s framed it before, the industry has been tailored for a particular audience in mind (in her opinion, straight white men). Consequently, this has alienated those who don’t fit the description. How can the industry remedy this?
“As I mentioned earlier, part of the solution is the industry admitting that there is a problem. If the industry wants to hire and retain talent from diverse backgrounds, it needs to amplify the excluded voices. That’s a good place to start. This entails making a concerted effort in bringing them in and paying them what they deserve.”
“Another thing is having Inclusive marketing of tournaments and games that appeal to a more diverse audience. Also, driving a cultural mindset shift from the thought that women can't play games and get into tech to one in which they are being encouraged to go into these fields.”

Gaming Is Real, Serious Business 

In an error where technology has defined our lives and continues to, some opinions are still firmly rooted in society’s conscience. Queen Arrow deals with the assumption that gamers are lazy because academic careers are still held to high prestige.
“People think that gamers are lazy people who don't know what they are doing with their lives. I deal with such assumptions by being the best I can be and proving such claims wrong.”
“Part of the reason people still have such views is to do with the fact that our economy and politics don't seem to accommodate anyone who thinks outside of the box. To change that, this needs to be worked on from a political and economic perspective. ” 
“The current laws that are in place also don’t help the situation. They give the impression that gaming and gambling are the same. This is actually a political and economic problem that needs to be addressed by the government as policy-making is part of its job.”
“Additionally, gaming is an expensive industry. Games and consoles are costly making them a preserve of the wealthy which means that ordinary Kenyans don’t really have access to the sport.” 

Looking Ahead

The global ESports industry was being tipped to surpass $1 billion dollars in revenue in 2021. Due to the lack of internet penetration in most African countries, the growth is likely to be slower compared to other parts of the world. 
It’s also projected that a huge part of eSports consumption will happen on mobile devices. Though men still dominate the industry, Queen Arrow appreciates the gradual improvement made by women in the sector.
“The future of esports in Kenya will be smartphone oriented. This is because smartphones are more affordable and accessible to younger people as compared to PCs and consoles. When it comes to the issue about women, I feel that we will have made strides to make the industry safer and inclusive.”
With what she’s achieved so far, Queen Arrow has set her sights on even bigger things.

"In terms of gaming, I hope to become the most recognized esports athlete from the African region representing major brands. As far as my law degree goes, I hope to champion a whole new field in law with relation to esports and consumer protection in video games.”

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