LGBTQ presence within esports has been on the rise in recent years. The emergence of prominent athletes providing positive representation like Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn and Ryan “Dragon” Walker has proven immensely valuable as the esports audience grows more diverse and inclusive.
But esports’ long-held penchant for toxicity toward marginalized communities does continue to periodically pop out of its gopher hole. While SonicFox’s rallying cry for trans rights rings loud enough to quell these corners of the fandom, LGBTQ esports athletes with lower profiles face discriminatory treatment.
One such athlete is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competitor May “Mystearica” Peterson. Mystearica began competing professionally in 2016, building up a reputation throughout the midwestern U.S. and notching victories over some of the top Smash Bros. players in the world on her way to being named the top Smash Ultimate player in her home state of Indiana.
hi. please refer to me with she/her pronouns from now on, for however long is left. thank you— SF | Mystearica (@Mystearicaa) January 8, 2020
But her toughest challenge came in January when she came out publicly as trans on Twitter. The decision to put her true self out front was nerve-racking out of fear of a wave of transphobic backlash. It weighed on her so much that she used her tweet to come out to her mother because she was too afraid to verbally communicate the announcement. Thankfully, Mystearica’s coming out was met with empowering support.
“Everyone has been very supportive of me,” Mystearica told the Indiana Daily Student. “It’s been a weight off my chest to be honest.”
The next hurdle came once Mystearica resumed her esports career post-coming out. While she already felt the sting of homophobia while previously identifying as gay, entering the online arenas esports in which esports thrive as trans led to a new wave of derogatory language. That transphobia is usually exclusive to Twitch and YouTube chat rooms, but it doesn’t mean that Mystearica is left unscathed.
“Whenever any trans player plays on stream, the chat is always bad,” Mystearica said. “All the fixation is on her gender, her sexuality or how she looks and it’s unfortunate because they don’t focus on the gameplay,” Mystearica’s coach Matt “MaDShadow” Davis told the Indiana Daily Student.
MaDShadow’s desire for audience focus to shift toward Mystearica’s skill level is one shared by LGBTQ athletes and allies across the sporting spectrum, but the 20-year-old esports pro isn’t letting the transphobia keep her from higher career aspirations. “People know her and remember her,” MaDShadow said.
Mystearica’s unending drive to reach the top tier of the Smash world beyond Indiana was on display after barely missing Top 24 at Frostbite 2020 in February. “Even though I got 25th at Frostbite, which is supposed to be a pretty good placement, I was very upset about it because I wanted to do better because I feel like I can do better,” Mysteriarica remarked. “I’ll never be satisfied.”
It’s clearly going to take more than some transphobic comments to knock this burgeoning esports talent off her stage.