As someone who is both a journalist and gamer, I enjoy tossing myself into the hell pits of online shit cans and sorting through the garbage for meaning. Over the last week, that pit has consisted of “egirls only,” “hot egirls only 18+,” “only hot girls 420,” “[Name redacted’s] feminist island 2/2/2 girls only,” and over a dozen of other Overwatch groups purporting to be all or mostly women cropping up every day. I joined every one I could find.
In June, Overwatch got a group finder, which means players can find people who share their interests or goals, queue up for a game, and lose, miserably, together. If you’re a low Gold player looking for some competitive matches, you’ll find your kin. If you’re trying to dramatically tank your competitive score by losing on purpose, you’ll find your kin. I’ve peeped a few Spanish-speaking groups, groups demanding “no meanies,” and sad cries for help by self-described “lonely gamers.” Yet to me, the most intriguing wildcards were Overwatch’s girl groups: groups apparently created to foster some girl solidarity (or connect straight men to women) in Overwatch’s turbulent cultural tides. And, as you can imagine, because it’s the internet, they’re anything but what they seemed to be.
No all-girls’ Overwatch group I joined was made up of exclusively women. No, not even “only hot girls 420.” “Are there any actual girls here?” I asked a few seconds after joining. “Uhhhh…….,” responded two men in unison. The overwhelming majority of female-oriented Overwatch groups were created by self-identified men looking for female players to game with. They weren’t weird. They weren’t creepy. We’d just play a round of Overwatch, talk about how this season’s competitive mode was going, coordinate a few plays and part ways.
Queueing up with “Hot egirls only 18+,” I asked the group’s creator, a guy, why he was looking for attractive, legal girls. Was he hoping for a little sweet talk while shielding his supports? Mic sex? “I don’t even expect girls to join,” he said, laughing. “Usually, it’s just guys who troll and talk in low voices and joke around.” He was just looking for like-minded dudes to get in on a joke with him. When I questioned why these all-girls groups are so prevalent, he said, “It’s just horny guys and computers, I think.” Well, okay, but what about you?
It wasn’t always about trolling. In one of the many girls’-only groups in which I was the only woman, the group’s creator told me that, actually, he wasn’t looking to pick up ladies on Overwatch. He had a girlfriend. All he wanted was teammates who aren’t toxic. Girls, he reasoned, aren’t toxic. He’ll settle for chill guys too, he added. Strangely enough, he was right—the group was quite nice and nobody yelled. “It’s been like this all day,” he bragged.
Girls who went out of their way to join these absurdly-named groups were, for the most part, trolling the guys who made them. One kept referring to each spectator who joined the game as the creator’s mom. The creator had many moms by the end of the game, and all of them were disappointed in him. Another, whose group name included the term “feminist island,” went far out of her way to convince me that Reinhardt’s voice actor, Darin De Paul, had joined. She explained that, for a few matches, he spoke exclusively in Reinhardt’s voice. (Darin De Paul’s agent did not return a request for comment when I attempted to confirm this.)
Some minority of all-women groups I found were created by women looking to play with other women, though none booted men for joining. One said of men who joined her “all-girls’” groups, “I understand. I hate playing with men. I’m not gonna begrudge him.” Another group creator didn’t want to be called out for being a girl in Overwatch for a few minutes. She didn’t want her voice to be a surprise when she joined voice chat. “I get that,” I told her. It was the only girl-girl bonding moment I’d had on my dumb adventure.
The mastermind behind “Gorls only plz (no bois) (authentication required) (i am gorl)” told me that, actually, the so-called all-girls’ groups are“the point” of the new feature. A little tongue-in-cheek, she added that game director Jeff Kaplan “is an ally and made this specifically for girls.” I got a kick out of that. Yet I wanted to believe her a little—not that Kaplan did this for our sakes, but that the group finder could easily be used to link up with other female-identified players.
Memeing on the idea that Overwatch’s new group finder can, and should, be used for women players to group—or to meet single bachelors—just goes to show how ridiculous that idea was in the first place. Yes, you can refine potential teammate searches by endorsement level and competitive skill rating. It’s kind of farfetched to imagine that an in-game client on the internet in 2018 could reliably connect players looking for the same social experience.
Overwatch provided a tool to its community. Its fans defined it. And, for better or for worse, it’s for gaming and memeing.