[T]he object of the crowd's affection was Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn. As the words "Victory!" flashed across the massive video screen behind her, the teenage Canadian tossed down her headphones and exited the glass isolation booth on center stage, taking a quick bow before sauntering over to a pair of broadcasters sitting nearby. There she leaned over with elbows propped, wobbling a bit. Her hands covered her mouth in an expression of disbelief. She had just pulled off a razor-thin upset over Ji Sung "Bomber" Choi, one of the top 10 StarCraft II players in the world, at a $50,000 tournament sponsored by Red Bull. To the trained eye, the thrilling match had a brutal ballet-like quality to it, even if Tchaikovsky might bristle at the comparison.
The fan next to me repeated what he had been trying to say earlier. "She's the next foreign hope," he said. Scarlett draped a Canadian flag over her green hoodie in celebration.
The North American StarCraft community started attaching the "foreign hope" label to Scarlett last year, after she nearly ousted Choi in the finals of a regional league championship and broke through the top 50 in the global rankings. But the phrase carries an added charge in Scarlett's case, as she is a transgender woman thrust into a hypermasculine subculture comprised mostly of young guys. As fans clamor for a player to upset South Korean dominance, Scarlett's sweet success is testing just how much this tight-knit community is willing to challenge the established order of their world.
"It is true I am [male-to-female] transgender, and I kinda expected this reaction. I have never tried to bring attention to myself for anything other than my play, so I don't feel like this should be a big deal," Scarlett wrote. "Most of the girls I know knew about this already and don't judge or care. In terms of actual play, there is (as far as I know) no advantage to being born male or female. But even if there was, being transgender means you are born with the brain of the opposite gender; so I would not have that advantage or disadvantage. All I ask is for people to be respectful and refer to me as 'she.'"