Meet Scarlett, the 20-year-old woman who’s blazing trails in ‘StarCraft’

This was the biggest year ever for eSports

Screengrab via ESL TV/YouTube

This was the biggest year ever for eSports. Competitive gaming has more players, a bigger audience, and a brighter future than ever before. Over the next 10 days, the Daily Dot will profile people who’ve fueled this unprecedented growth, from top players to industry visionaries. In our first in the series, we look at Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, the 20-year-old StarCraft 2 phenom from Canada.

StarCraft is a South Korean game.

Sure, the Blizzard real-time strategy hit was made by Americans. And many of the most lucrative tournaments and contracts are doling out millions of dollars in the Western world. But the game’s greatest players are almost all Korean and have been since 2000.

Even after League of Legends effectively conquered the country’s insatiable appetite for online games, it still feels just right to see the Korean flag next to gold medals at StarCraft 2 events.

But then there’s the curious case of Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, one of the best players in the world, who breaks the mold completely. She’s a 20-year-old Canadian transgendered female with injury-prone wrists and a penchant for beating Koreans at their own game. Known alternatively as “Korean Kryptonite” and “The Queen of Blades,” she’s built up an enormous fanbase that rivals any StarCraft player in the world.

Hostyn burst into the public eye in early 2012 when she pulled off a series of upset wins against a handful of big-time professionals at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Fans wondered who the new kid was. The event changed her life.

The response ot her success from the gaming world was was mixed. Many people celebrated her wins. But a loud minority of fans attacked her gender identity at every opportunity. Hostyn herself rarely talks about this aspect of her life, even going so far as to say it’s disrespectful to even acknowledge the fact in online encyclopedia entries about her.

“I have always tried to make it a complete non-issue,” she wrote, “and including this [in my player page] is subverting that and akin to mentioning someone is the best gay/black/etc player; something that has absolutely no relevance on how they play.”

The eSports community has embraced Hostyn as a favorite for many reasons that have little to do with her gender identity. It’s easy to see why.

In the past month, she’s sparked a rivalry with Jaedong, the highest earning eSports player of all time. She placed third at Red Bull’s Battle Grounds New York City, where she played one of the most exciting matches in memory against Bomber, one of the best players in the world, en route to a silver medal, making her easily stand well above any other non-Korean player.

Hostyn’s impressive StarCraft talent combined with her singular personal story as a pioneer make her one of the most important people in eSports today. And yet, just as Hostyn hit her stride, she announced last month that she may be quitting the game in 2014.