A team of transgender Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players were barred from entering an online female-only tournament and were told by ESL they could be penalized for faking their gender.

The team’s captain, Sly Buehl Rigilio, is based in Italy and has been a gamer since she was 10. “Gaming has always helped me cope with the burden of not being able to express my true feelings fully,” Rigilio said to BuzzFeed. “As you’ve probably heard, we’re not very welcomed in this community, at least among the average player. [But when] I met a group of other transgender girls, things started to look up from there.”

Sly and her team wanted to begin competing, entering into the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive 5-on-5 Female Open Summer 2017 tournament hosted by ESL and organized by Munich Finest Gaming. However, after Sly sent in her team’s application, they were rejected. ESL had replied in an email stating:

No males are allowed. Please take care, [faking] your gender can be penalized.

“When I saw this I almost broke down in tears,” Rigilio continued. “Here I am thinking we finally have a shot to shine and show our true colors to the gaming world, and then we get shut down based on our looks because we didn’t look ‘female’ enough for them.”

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She continued to fight for herself and for her team, first opening a support ticket with ESL, asking why they were excluded.

“Now from what I’ve [seen] and read,” Rigilio expressed in the ticket. “We’ve passed everything. However, the only difference with our team is that we have a few members that are open transexuals. So from our point of view, it seems an admin has deemed us not suitable for this tournament, which is rather huge in discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community.”

Unfortunately, the response she received was not helpful. They could be added to the tournament manually by an admin, but only after each active member of the team submitted a passport legally identifying them as female. This was a problem for Sly and her team as some of them have yet to go through the trouble of changing their gender on their passports. “I’m going to guess you don’t understand how embarrassing and hard it is to change your info like that, [especially] in such a short amount of time,” Sly finished.

Because of the official tournament rules, the ESL admin had no other option but to once again deny Rigilio’s team.

Anna Rozwandowicz, an ESL spokesperson, gave a comment on the situation. “As female tournaments are meant to help develop and support the female esports scene,” the spokesperson shared. “We are extra careful to triple-check that those who want to participate in female tournaments are also eligible to do so.”

For the record, I am not saying that we think the team in question is trying to troll us – I am saying that the extra checks we performed on them, we performed on everyone else to ensure the competitive integrity of the tournament is safeguarded.

Interestingly enough, ESL, in partnership with Intel, founded the AnyKey Organization which “is committed to a long-term vision of a gaming community that is welcoming to all players, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, religious belief, background, or physical appearance.”

Left without other options, Sly Bruehl Rigilio and her team were forced to the sidelines as the female-only ESL tournament began.

Update: AnyKey has put out a new statement, expressing their continued efforts against exclusion, somewhat referring to Rigilio’s denial.

Regardless of what it says on your passport or ID, or what judgements people may want to make about who they think you are, at AnyKey we believe in a policy of “you are who you say you are.” This means that anyone who self-identifies and lives as a woman should be able to participate in any women-only tournament.

You can find their full statement here.

Update 2: To the surprise of many, it turns out that Rigilio and his team was acting in bad faith — specifically, they’re a bunch of right-leaning YouTuber trolls operating under the alias “Rigatoni Family.” Per their interview with infamously far-right publication Infowars, they’d deliberately targeted ESL to provoke controversy and trvick publications into writing about, well. Fake news.

Their actions are, of course, reprehensible and beyond the pale given the history of discrimination and harm specific to the trans community. But there is a rather clear silver lining. The actions were undertaken by ESL, with AnyKey’s consultation, still leads to a more welcoming environment for trans gamers. Rigilio’s attempts to perpetuate harm against them may ultimately just serve to make their lives easier.