Meet Caltys: The female pro looking to make her mark on League esports

Meg Kay
Twitter: @Caltyss

Maya ‘Caltys’ Henckel isn’t the first woman to play in the European Regional Leagues (ERL) system. But she wants to be the best.

The ERLs have been praised across the globe for their ability to help young aspiring pros find their footing in the world of League of Legends. It’s considered by many to be the proving grounds for those looking to secure starting spots in the LEC, Europe’s showpiece League competition.

It’s also, much like the rest of the League of Legends ecosystem, a male-dominated field. There have been a few female competitors in the regional leagues – most notably Adina ‘Shafu’ Hiner, who competed in the Esports Balkan League (EBL) as the starting support for Team Neurotec.

But even when taking those examples into consideration, the track record of female players isn’t the best.

Caltys is looking to change that.

The path to the ERLs

The Swedish AD Carry has been around in the scene since 2019, when she started her competitive career in the Women’s Esports League with Out of the Blue, off-roling as a jungler. The team ended up winning the league’s inaugural season.

That same year, she also competed in La Ligue Féminine’s second split with Out Of the Blue, but this time in her primary role as AD Carry. The team placed second in the split, and went on to win the league in summer.

They also attended the 2019 GIRLGAMER Esports festival in Dubai, claiming a quick 3-0 victory in the final against Grow uP Girls EU.

She’s played on both women’s and mixed-gender teams during her time in the scene, and she’s played in promotional tournaments for both the LVP and the Prime League. Both times, her team failed to qualify for the main tournament.

At the start of 2022, she finally got one step closer to achieving that goal, joining EBL team Valiance as their starting AD Carry for the Spring Split.

This is her first experience in a tournament with direct qualification to EU Masters, and she’s more than ready for the challenges she’ll face.

“My ultimate goal has always been to play with the best,” she told Dexerto, “and my eyes are of course set on the LEC but I know that even if I achieved that goal I’d still want to go for more.”

Rising through the ranks in Europe’s competitive scene

SK Gaming
Caltys was one of the invited participants for SK Gaming’s Project Avarosa bootcamps.

Her competitive drive is something that her coach, Josef Kolisang, picked up on almost instantly when he first started working with Caltys through the Esports Player Foundation (EPF).

The EPF is a German non-profit that helps develop esports talent to compete at the highest level and provides support programs to young players balancing school, university, and work with a pathway to an esports career.

In his role as coach, Josef provides one-to-one support to prospective pros like Caltys. He was also the official coach for SK Gaming’s Project Avarosa, a program to help high-level female and non-binary League players experience a competitive environment and provide them with the tools needed to find success in esports.

“She was one of the first three applicants for the EPF’s mentorship program” he explained. “What I saw in her was that she’s a very eager person who really, really wants to improve.”

She picked up League when she was 12 years old on a recommendation from her older sister, and her love of the game began while playing socially with classmates. However, she dreamt of going pro from very early on in her playing career, and a trip to the 2015 EU LCS finals in Stockholm solidified that dream.

“I knew that was what I wanted to do one day,” she told Dexerto. “My only regret is that I didn’t start working towards it sooner.”

She found success in Europe’s women’s scene, but unfortunately, she explained, “mixed teams don’t consider experience with female-only teams valuable.” The next goal was, of course, to start playing on mixed teams, but finding those starting spots presented its own challenge.

Josef explained that he “went to 12 managers and coaches and begged them to give her a tryout, not even a starting spot. And so many of them just refused.”

The debate over the value of women’s-only teams came to a head earlier this year after the announcement of a women’s-only CS:GO circuit run by ESL. It’s a hotly debated subject in esports as to whether these events help or hinder the participation of women in gaming. And unfortunately, it’s a topic that doesn’t yet have a clear answer.

Caltys explains that her time on female-only teams at the start of her career helped to “develop her as a player and as a person”, but that ultimately it “didn’t help me get any offers” when looking to try out for mixed teams.

Joining Valiance and the road to EU Masters

Joining Valiance in the EBL is her first opportunity to qualify for Europe’s premier League of Legends tournament, and she’s not taking it for granted.

She found out about the team through coach Louis ‘Smeag’ Green, whom she had met while attempting to qualify for the LVP under a team not supported by an official esports organization. Although she failed to qualify with that roster, Smeag saw promise in her after multiple vouches and VOD reviews, and offered her a spot on the Valiance roster.

Valiance currently have a 1-1 record in the EBL after beating Nexus KTRL and losing to Crvena zvezda Esports. Although Caltys believes in the individual performance of her teammates, she’s quick to assert that “League of Legends is a team game, and we definitely have a lot to work on.”

The ultimate goal is to qualify for EU Masters, but in her work with the EPF she’s found the importance of setting shorter-term goals too.

“I set up goals for myself every season, mainly around solo queue rank,” she explained. “I think it’s especially important that I maintain a high rank since it’s the easiest way to ‘prove’ I’m good enough.”

She’s got a lot more to prove than some of her male counterparts, simply because so much of her past experience has come from a background that isn’t respected or appreciated by teams in League’s ecosystem.

The burden of proof

And it will be a hard road to prove herself. As one of only a handful of female players to ever compete at Europe’s highest levels, she will have to overcome significantly different barriers to the majority of ERL players.

Josef told Dexerto that the EPF offers psychological coaching and support alongside in-game coaching, and that they are working to prepare Caltys for the adversities she may face.

She herself explained that “once you get into a team, the biggest concern is harassment,” and she has spoken out on Twitter about the abuse she’s faced in the competitive scene.

But it would be reductive to boil her experience as a player down to the hardships she may come up against. The experience of a female pro cannot be simplified down to only the harassment and institutional sexism that they will potentially face. She has proven time and time again that she is ready for whatever the world of esports can throw at her, in-game and out.

“I’m happy as long as I’m able to compete,” she said.

Coach Josef also highlighted how damaging this tokenism and reductive attitude can be in esports, especially for female pros. “I don’t want her to be the token player for people to go ‘See! If you work hard enough you can do it!’ because that is bulls**t.”

“It’s not the case that there aren’t enough female players who are willing to try, it’s that the organizations need to be more welcoming and more willing to change their infrastructure to allow women to compete.”

It’s impossible to say whether this is the start of a radical shift in esports, and it’s unfair to put the burden of proof of women’s value as competitors on one player who is just trying to achieve a lifelong goal. Caltys is not every woman in esports: she is herself, and right now, she’s looking to make her mark on the EBL with Valiance.