When it comes to electronic gaming — a world dominated by males — one seldom sees a female face in the top ranks. But now a new champion is breaking ground.
Earlier this month, Li Xiaomeng, a 23-year-old Chinese woman using the moniker VKLiooon, became the world's first female Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Finals champion.
Born in Kuitun in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Li swept the Blizzard Carnical-Grandmasters Global Finals, beating long odds to win $200,000 and carry off the 2019 trophy.
Hearthstone is a digital collectible card game by Blizzard Entertainment in which players do battle with minions, spells and weapons to reduce their opponents' health to zero.
Li is also the first woman to win Season 1 of China's Golden Series. As playoff champions, Gao Yang, the Season 2 winner, and Li got tickets to Anaheim, California, to play in the Grandmasters Global Finals 2019 in July.
"I never expected to win," Li said. "The Global Finals is fierce and some of my opponents are my idols."
Women typically get little respect in the macho world of the Finals.
"Sex discrimination is common because male players tend to view you as less competitive," Li said.
Two years ago, when she was waiting in the backup line in a Gold Open game in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, a man humiliated her. "Women shouldn't be here," she recalled him saying.
In March, Li won second place in the professional group of the Qingdao Gold Open, the best result ever for a female player. But she was rejected by a professional team she had applied to join. Instead, the team signed the third-place player, a male.
Now Li is a world champion, and she's earned the right to revel in a sense of delayed justice. She condemned the criticism of woman on Twitter recently. "More and more girls will become esports winners," she wrote. "You'll get used to it."
"With the popularity and recognition of esports in China, more women will enter."
Li was first introduced to the card game Legend of Hearthstone in her sophomore year at SouthwestUniversity of Political Science and Law. She remembers that she didn't even rank in the top 20,000 players in 2016. But she didn't give up. She began to study strategies by watching professional tournaments. She turned professional after graduation.
"I will keep going as an esports player in the years to come," she said. "I've made quite a few achievements so far, and I won't leave the industry easily even if I get knocked out of the top spot. Instead, I hope I can be an esports commentator or do some work behind the scenes, probably in the legal affairs arena."