Fresno State student Sydnea “Unagi” Ruppert has always had a background in video games.
As competitive individuals, her parents met playing in esports and have since passed that love and passion for gaming down to their daughter. As a result, Ruppert now plays competitive Overwatch, a team-based shooting game, under the university’s banner.
Ruppert’s teammate, Kalena “Robin” Rangel, who’s also a student at Fresno State, has deep roots embedded in gaming and grew up playing the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). After a nudge from a friend to pursue video games competitively, Rangel joined the Overwatch team at Fresno State when it launched in 2019 and now has a spot on the roster.
Although the two share a common interest in video games, they also happen to be the only two female players on the university’s Overwatch team.
Despite residing on a roster predominantly consisting of men, both Ruppert and Rangel say they remain undaunted, highly inspired and determined when it comes to playing competitively as women in esports at Fresno State.
Ruppert, originally from Sacramento, now resides in Missouri as a result of the pandemic and finds the idea of competing within the context of gaming to be an interesting and wonderful opportunity.
“The fact that you can turn something that’s meant for fun into a friendly competition with other people is exciting,” Ruppert said.
She also appreciates the fact that her experience in esports has taught her team building and communicative skills, both of which she plans to implement in later life.
Although Ruppert is able to communicate with her team and engage competitively during matches, she does feel pressured in terms of performance and also stigmatized as a woman in esports.
Despite the feeling, Ruppert said she remains confident in her ability to perform competitively and remains focused on winning alongside her team.
“You’ve got to remove that stigmatism by being like, ‘I can do this just as good as anyone else.’ And I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Kalena and I do that. But I’m still going to keep playing, I’m still gonna keep climbing the ranks,” she said.
While she remains confident in her ability to play Overwatch for Fresno State, Ruppert feels like an imposter at times. She said her biggest struggle is the idea of failure and how that could affect her team.
According to Ruppert, all of the pressure in which she experiences ultimately stems from high expectations within herself. But Fresno State Overwatch varsity coach Josh Tolbert said Ruppert is doing an excellent job as a member of the team and applauds both her effort and tenacity.
Tolbert has seen Ruppert grow as a player since she landed a spot on the team.
According to Tolbert, Ruppert originally had to work on things like emotional intelligence and team communication, meaning much of what she used to say to her teammates negatively affected them on an emotional level.
Tolbert said that she has improved exponentially since her initial start, and she now understands how to properly and professionally provide constructive criticism to her teammates.
“She’s a player I am very proud of,” Tolbert said. “She’s come a long way.”
As one of two female competitors on the Fresno State Overwatch team, Ruppert wishes that more female players would try out.
“Being one of two girls on the team kind of sucks, but at the same time I was never like, ‘Oh, why aren’t there more girls out there?’ I do wish there were more girls in esports in general, but that’s a different topic altogether. I always felt accepted,” Ruppert said.
In terms of playing within a collegiate setting, Ruppert said her experiences against opponents have always remained respectful and professional, with no instances of misogyny or disrespect whatsoever.
Although some may find competitive play to be daunting at times, Ruppert said other females should try out for the team and keep an open mind while they’re at it.
“There’s going to be people that don’t like you no matter what race, gender, sexuality – whatever you are. Really try to find yourself [around] people that want you to succeed, and it may be hard to do that because you’ll feel alone in a large group of men,” Ruppert said. “But I promise you, there will be someone out there that wants to hear your story.”
As for Rangel, a Visalia native, her initial experience on the Fresno State Overwatch team was scary because she considers herself an introvert.
Rangel said there were times in which she rarely communicated to her team during matches and only uttered but a few words at a time. This was a result of her fear in miscommunication and disappointing her team during competitive play. Despite having a rocky start, however, Rangel said she always felt supported by her team and feels very respected.
Although she thought of the idea of taking her esports skills to a professional level, Rangel ultimately decided to put her education first.
As of right now, Rangel practices Overwatch for roughly 12 hours a week as opposed to her professional counterparts who clock in more than 40 hours. While Rangel enjoys her time playing Overwatch and communicating with her team, she’s more interested and focused on what her educational background has to offer her in the near future.
Rangel said she is unsure as to what she plans to accomplish after finishing her bachelor’s degree but also mentioned she’s likely to pursue either medical school or something in radiation therapy.
Rangel’s esports career at Fresno State has been filled with honorable achievements. For example, her skills as an Overwatch player landed her a spot on the varsity team without having to try out. She was also voted most valuable player during a collegiate tournament last semester, which resulted in a professional interview done via live stream.
According to Tolbert, Rangel was initially reclusive and incredibly shy but has since grown into someone highly talented. Tolbert likes to consider Rangel as one of the most impressive and talented female Overwatch players within the collegiate spectrum and finds her comical personality enjoyable to be around.
Rangel said she enjoys being on the team and encourages other women to try out and give it their best.
“If you’re really passionate about it just do it,” she said. “I know it might be intimidating because there’s a lot of guys and you’d be scared of competing with guys, but I’d say just do it and especially if you prove them wrong, it leaves a big impression on guys.”