Esports is growing rapidly, especially at a professional level. But while there are 128 spaces in the FIFA eWorld Cup playoffs, last year not a single woman featured.
Since then, however, the sport has seen its first women sign professional contracts. Spain's Laura Moreno aka LaurixGames was the first. Brazil's Stephanie Luana da Silva Santos was the second.
The 22-year-old da Silva Santos, known as Teca, is the country's first woman to become professional after signing with Future FC in November last year. Reflecting on that she says: "It is a dream come true to be able to work with what I love to do."
Before that, she was working for a foreign trade company in her home of Sao Paolo and playing for fun. She explains: "I always played a lot and got some decent results, which got noted. The athlete agency that I belong to got in touch with me saying that Future FC was interested in incorporating me into the team and I accepted."
Future FC is looked after by Astralis Group, and they are committed to supporting Teca. When organising this interview Steen Laursen, the group's communications vice president, said: "We have the ambition to help Stephanie become the best player in the world – we don't look at gender, skin colour, religion or anything else, but believe in her talent."
Teca's goals currently are a little more practical. She says: "I hope to progress step by step, little by little until I reach the goal of playing in the championships."
On a practical note, Teca explains this means "being able to get the 27 wins in the Weekend League to check my account and start participating in the official qualifiers". She adds: "The sports director and the whole team around us believes in me, and have very big ambitions, but I need to take it a step at a time."
To get to the upper echelons of the sport, Teca's days are consumed by the sport. She explains: "A typical day for me now is basically around training and daily conversations with the Future FC performance team. It's about living right, physical training and a lot of practice. Astralis Group is a frontrunner in that aspect and I am thrilled to be a part of that programme."
Becoming a professional hasn't impacted her enjoyment of the game, however. She reflects: "It is different, because before I played as just a hobby and now I play as a FIFA professional trying to understand the game on a much deeper level and also in search of constant improvement to achieve my goal. Astralis Group is extremely professional around everything they do and I do, but it's still fun."
Being the second full-time player in the world and Brazil's first is "incredible" says Teca. "I never imagined it could happen one day. I am extremely grateful to Future FC for that. I hope I can be an example to others – you can reach your dreams, but you need to keep on working hard to improve."
She doesn't feel any pressure becoming a role model, instead, she explains: "I am very happy to be able to inspire other young women who have the same dream."
It is not all easy, however. Teca says: "Being a woman in the sport is a little difficult because people are not yet prepared for it. Unfortunately, there are still things like 'I don't want to lose to a woman', but the most important thing is to focus on the game and exclude those things.
"We should all be equal, and I experience this every day with my team and teammates. There is no difference inside the team, and that is how it should be."
Teca is clear about what she thinks needs to happen so that more women join her at the top: "I believe that it is necessary to offer more opportunities for girls who want to develop as professionals. It's up to the organizations, tournaments and sponsors, but also for the fans. Treat us the same way as men and let us prove, we can do this on the same level."
For girls who are inspired to play FIFA professionally but are unsure how to proceed, Teca's advice is simple: "No matter how difficult it is to enter a somewhat restricted environment that is esports, if this is their dream, do not give up, because everything we desire with great strength can indeed become reality. This counts for esports – and for everything in life. Don't give up on your desire!"
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