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Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn Read by Amber Allen

Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn is a pioneer in professional computer gaming. From the time she was five, she’s been pushing for gender equity in the gaming world. And now, she’s breaking records!

Get to Know AMber Allen

Get to know Amber Allen, gamer girl and CEO/Founder of Double A Labs. Amber makes new technology that’s redefining gaming and entertainment. She tells us the story of Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn. Listen to learn about the future of girls in gaming!

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Haley Dapkus with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Alexis Stratton and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Amber Allen. Joy Smith was our executive producer. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

Once upon a time, in a three-level theater in New York City, bright spotlights swept across an eager crowd. A giant screen in front flashed with animated figures facing off in a heated battle. Blasts reverberated from huge surround-sound speakers, and everyone cheered. 

Below the screen, two pro StarCraft 2 players were controlling the action: Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn and Choi “Bomber” Ji Sung. The players’ hands danced over their computer keyboards, clicking and clacking in rapid-fire rhythm. Sasha did her best to block out all the noise — even the wild applause around her. She knew she had to focus if she was going to win this game. She had only this one chance to make StarCraft history…

I’m Amber Allen. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us. 

On this episode, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn: a professional gamer whose creative tactics have taken the world of e-lectronic  sports by storm.

Sasha grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, in the 1990s. She loved getting lost in great books or skiing down snowy slopes in the icy air. 

But more than anything, Sasha loved games—board games, card games, video games, computer games. You name it, she played it.

Sasha, her brother Sean, and her two parents often gathered in the kitchen for game nights. Sometimes, they played card games where Sasha imagined she was a powerful mage who could summon fire-breathing dragons. Other times, they played board games that required quick thinking and strategy.

Their house was filled with the sounds of rolling dice, shuffling cards, and laughter. And whatever game they were playing, Sasha almost always won!

Sasha was always looking for a new challenge. So she turned to computer games to push herself. Her dad installed a game on their computers called StarCraft.

It was kind of like chess: Two people played against each other; each one commanding their own army of robo-soldiers, insects or futuristic aliens. The object was to take control of the game’s board, which was a large map that changed from game to game.

Sasha was mesmerized by StarCraft. She played with her dad a lot, trying to grow her army and strategize before her next move. But her dad was good at this game — really good. She watched in horror as he destroyed her resources and blew up her home base.

It stung to lose, but it also made Sasha even more determined to study this game and find her best path forward.

At age eleven, Sasha went on a trip with her family to China. Sasha had been learning Mandarin for fun—just for fun—since she was six, and she couldn’t wait to try reading menus and speaking to locals. As her family traveled through the countryside, she sounded out all the signs they passed. When she got stuck on a word or phrase, she flipped through the onion-skin pages of her Mandarin-English dictionary. It was like clicking together pieces of an intricate puzzle. 

Sasha loved learning languages almost as much as she loved games. And as they drove by storefronts, something new caught her eye—a game called xiangqi, which is sometimes called Chinese chess.

Learning a new game in a different country sounded like a good challenge. So Sasha convinced her parents to buy her a travel set.

A few days later, after walking along the cobblestone streets and canals of Lijiang [LEE jyong], Sasha and her family settled down for a meal at a restaurant. The smells of roasted fish and poplar blossoms floated through the air. As Sasha and her family ate, a waiter noticed Sasha fiddling with her xiangqi [shee-YUNG chee] board. So Sasha challenged him to a game!

Soon enough, the two were sitting across from each other at a table, eyeing their round wooden pieces. A crowd began to gather, and with each move that Sasha made, the tension rose.

Sasha was good. So good, in fact, the spectators eventually summoned a local expert in the game—the only one who could finally beat her! This time, even when she lost, she felt a familiar surge of confidence grow within her. She knew how to be patient and clever. She was becoming a real gamer.

A few years later, Sasha heard strange but familiar noises coming from her brother’s computer. There were high-tech buzzes and whooshes, loud explosions, and intense music.

Was that…StarCraft? The game her dad had introduced her to her so long ago?

It was actually StarCraft 2, and Sasha jumped into learning how to play that game with grit and gusto. She knew there was a tricky balance to achieve between daring maneuvers, flexibility and focus.

She usually played as the Zerg—the alien race of insects—and used the screenname “Scarlett.” She practiced for hours every day and learned the Zerg’s best moves—and her opponents’ weaknesses.

To an outsider, it looked like Sasha might be making music—the way her left hand moved nimbly over her computer keyboard, while her right hand swept the mouse this way and that. There was a rhythm to it, a fluid intensity. Sasha was truly in her element.

After a year of playing StarCraft 2, Sasha entered an online tournament—and won. Then, she competed at an in-person competition with some of the world’s best players—and made it to the sixth round.

People started taking notice. Her gameplay was so good, commentators called Sasha a “miracle” and a “prodigy.”

Fans rallied around her. StarCraft 2 was dominated by male players and people from South Korea, where the game was super popular. Many thought Sasha’s rise to power was a big deal.

And by the end of 2012, after many hardwon battles, Sasha was crowned the North American champion of StarCraft 2.

Unfortunately, not everyone was a fan of this new champion. Some people said girls didn’t belong in the world of pro gaming. Others said mean things because Sasha was transgender. 

Her opponents sometimes challenged or mocked her. But Sasha did her best to ignore them and channel her energy into experimenting with new strategies. 

Once, Sasha did something unthinkable in the pro StarCraft world. She usually played as Zerg, but this time, she switched to a different alien race instead. This change completely confused her opponent, and Sasha won easily.

She was such an innovative player, that people started calling her the Queen of StarCraft.

Which brings us back to that huge theater in New York City in 2013—an event that will go down in StarCraft 2 history.

Sasha had been training in Seoul, competing against the world’s best players—and learning some Korean on the side. Now she was in New York City at a huge international tournament.

On stage was a big booth with two computers separated by a divider. Above them was an enormous screen where all the action would be projected, and out in the ballroom, 2,000 spectators sat ready for the match.

Sasha and Choi stepped into the spotlights as the audience clapped and cheered. They sat down and popped earbuds in their ears, covering them with noise-canceling headphones.

Sasha stared intently at her computer screen, her fingers poised and ready over her keyboard. She tried to tune out everything — the crowd, the announcers, the roving lights. She had to dive into this StarCraft world, concentrated and intent.

But thirty minutes into the game, things were not looking great. Both players were running low on troops and were practically out of resources.

That’s when Sasha made a bold gamble. Instead of making power hitters, she did something sneaky. She built burrowed banelings [BANE-lings] —which were swarms of bugs that acted like mines. While her opponent’s scanners were down, Sasha secretly planted them in strategic locations all around the map.

Then, Sasha swarmed her main troops to the opposing base and let them chase after her. It was a risky move, but it was her only hope at taking over the game.

Boom! Fluorescent green colors blew up on the screen. The banelings had exploded, knocking out a handful of the enemy’s marines.

It took a little while, but Choi did recover. Soon, his powerful marines were chasing Sasha’s swarms again, determined to wipe them out. Choi chased them across a plain then down a ramp and then—

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

Another simulated explosion rocked the room. This time, much bigger than before. Choi’s marines were wiped out, and Sasha’s name flashed up on the screen along with one word: “VICTORY.”

The ballroom erupted into cheers. Sasha emerged from the booth, almost as stunned as the crowd.

She did it! She bowed as the audience roared their approval, standing on their feet and shouting for her.

Later, Sasha’s match against Choi would be called one of the best in StarCraft history—and Sasha would be hailed as one of the most creative players ever. She went on to become an international champion, and she continues to blaze new trails as one of the world’s top pro gamers. 

Sasha plays StarCraft 2 as her full-time job now, competing at tournaments and winning sponsorships. She practices day-in and day-out until her wrists, fingers, and brain are too tired to go on. And today, she is the highest-earning woman in esports—with more than $450,000 in prize money.

Sasha loves gaming, and she’s excited to explore new adventures on and off screen. Maybe she’ll study programming or learn a few more new languages (to add to English, Mandarin, Hindi, and Korean). Maybe she’ll try to become a champion in other games as well.

No matter what she pursues, Sasha will always be the queen of StarCraft 2—a player with patience, wit and daring. Her style and commitment are legendary and inspiring. And she truly believes that games can help us find our most creative, courageous selves.