The note atop the thread in The Division 2 subreddit was awkward. “The moderators have allowed for many congratulation raid completion posts,” it began. This was one of many threads in celebrating various groups of gamers for clearing The Division 2’s daunting eight-player raid. But, it continued: “This one is unfortunately being locked due to increased nastiness.”
The thread was posted in mid-July by a lawyer who plays games on her PS4 under the name The Grapple Girl. She and seven other female players had finished The Division 2’s Operation Dark Hours raid, which was added to Ubisoft’s cover-based shooter in May. The raid, the first one for the series, was only accessible to players who’d poured dozens of hours into the game, levelled up and equipped themselves with the best gear. It challenged players to take on four tough fights, starting with a shootout with a heavily armoured character called Boomer in the airport’s entrance and culminating on the tarmac with an assault on a drone-launching truck called Razorback.
The Grapple Girl was proud of what she and her group had done, something that was unusual to see in a competitive game space that is predominantly made up of men. Eight women who played a fairly popular shooter had found each other online and overcome the hardest challenge in their game of choice.
“Congratulations to the ladies of Valkyrie Rising who achieved the FIRST EVER ALL FEMALE raid clear on PS4 last night,” The Grapple Girl wrote. She appended an image of eight female avatars in tactical gear standing on top of a truck just after conquering the raid.
The Grapple Girl’s thread was upvoted heavily and included numerous congratulatory replies. But it was also loaded with negative comments.
“Not sure why gender matters in a video game, but congrats,” one user wrote.
“Why is this a thing?” another wrote. “My gf plays with me and is just as good as I am so we don’t really need special accolades based on gender.”
Some Reddit users challenged The Grapple Girl’s assertion that the Valkyrie Rising group really was the world’s first all-female team. Did she have proof?
She replied to that one, “Do you know of any other women raid group who beat it? Please let us know. We’ve outreached to TD2 and done our due diligence to search. That’s another reason for this post.”
More negativity followed, and the thread was soon locked.
Valkyrie Rising started in late June. It’s a Discord-based matchmaking group for women who play The Division 2. It emerged from The Grapple Girl’s desire to find women with whom she could tackle the Operation Dark Hours raid. Women play any and every game under the sun, but finding seven other women to play a Division 2 raid wasn’t the easiest task. The Grapple Girl was in a Discord-based clan consisting of hundreds of Division 2 players and, as best she could tell, there weren’t even seven other women in it.
She began reaching out online, and as word spread, she eventually started the Valkyrie Rising Discord, where women who was interested could connect.
Her efforts caught the eye of gamers such as Ashley, a data entry specialist who plays on PlayStation 4 under the name Athena19. She’d been feeling uncomfortable in the Division 2 clan she was in. “It just started to get kind of toxic,” she said over a Skype interview. She found another one she liked more. It had some players who were able to take her through the raid in about half an hour and, even more surprising, this clan had some women in it. “I was even more interested because I hadn’t met a single other lady playing The Division at all, ever,” she said. Ashley soon heard about plans for Valkyrie Rising and an all-female raid run. She joined in.
One member of Valkyrie Rising said it’s “so exciting to be in a positive environment with other female gamers, where they don’t feel judged because of their gender.”
Ashley is a lifelong gamer. As a kid. she played Doom with her dad, got into PlayStation growing up and has been into The Division for some time. Gaming has been, among other things, a way for her to connect with people and get around the anxiety she’s experienced since the age of 12 when, as she tells it, she was boogie-boarding near a beach in the US state of North Carolina and was attacked by a bull shark. “It just came out by me, and it bit me on the leg, and I had over 300 stitches,” she said. It left her shaken for a long time.
Valkyrie Rising was a new way for Ashley to find comfort in online gaming. With The Grapple Girl and six other women, she tried tackling the raid. The VR group tried a few times over the course of the week, learning tactics and developing better chemistry. On Monday, July 1, they tried again and pulled it off. Ashley streamed it on her Twitch channel, where her username is sharksurvivor101.
One of the reasons the women of Valkyrie Rising were so excited about finishing the raid back in July was that so few players of any gender had cleared it or even been able to access it in The Division 2’s endgame, given the skill and playing time required.
“It’s difficult enough to get a people that have the correct builds to begin with to even complete or do the raid,” said Korrie, a doctor and member of Valkyrie Rising who was also part of the group that cleared the raid (she’s on PSN as kdubsdo). A lot of players just weren’t powerful enough to take it on. They may not have the wherewithal to deal with the game’s random-number-generator grind that constrains the hunt for the most statistically favourable gear. Or, as Korrie put it to rhyme: “You know, you have to pray to RNJesus to get those sweet gear pieces.”
Watching the stream of Valkyrie Rising’s successful raid, most of the action is similar to what you’d see in other raid clears at the time. Everyone’s running pretty much the same build with the chem launcher and hive revive equipped. They kite Boomer. They call out their shots to take down Razorback. The main difference is what the voices of the players doing the raid sound like. When they clear it, they’re as euphoric as any other group.
Completion of the raid is rare. To this day, on PlayStation 4, the trophy for clearing it has only been achieved by 3.4% of players. That percentage was even lower in early July. The Valkyrie Rising team was excited to tell the world they’d pulled it off. “We wanted to, just, you know, [say], ‘See... ladies did it,” Ashley said. “And we thought it would kind of help get more ladies to play and kind of join up.”
To get the word out, Ashley e-mailed a group photo of the Valkyrie Rising team to Kotaku. The Grapple Girl made that Reddit thread. The game’s developers noticed, offering a congratulations during the official weekly State of the Game livestream. Other women playing the game noticed, too. Even as that Reddit thread went ablaze, women were sending private messages to The Grapple Girl saying they wanted in.
Valkyrie Rising, just a few dozen women early on, grew from 20 to 70 and eventually more than 100 women, networked together for the opportunity to play with one another. They are from around the world, with members in America, England, Australia and more. They’re not so much a gaming clan of their own as a matchmaking group where women who are part of any Division communities can still find each other if they’re in the mood to play with more women. Valkyrie Rising’s admins ask new users to submit to a verification process, usually involving a selfie or voice chat or verification from an existing member. The goal, The Grapple Girl said, is to allow anyone who identifies as a woman to feel at ease.
“It’s all just really positive,” said Korrie. “Everyone has a similar kind of experience that we initially did when we found each other, which was just [that it’s] so exciting to be in a positive environment with other female gamers where they don’t feel judged because of their gender.”
Group shot of another one of Valkyrie Rising’s all-ladies raid clears. They’ve done it many times now.
Playing with other women has been a relief for some of the members of Valkyrie Rising. It gives them a break from some of the sexism that can arise when they’re playing with random people online and just trying to have fun. “There are definitely women that we play with regularly that get the comments about how their voice is sexy, and it makes them very uncomfortable,” Korrie said.
Playing alongside other women can be empowering. Ashley recalled a recent experience in The Division 2’s treacherous Dark Zone, where players can group up cooperatively but also ambush one another. She was in it with several other women from Valkyrie Rising when they came across a male player with an open mic. “He immediately started, like, harassing us and saying stupid stuff, but it was nice because we were in a group, so we could kind of just like laugh it off.” In the parlance of the Dark Zone, Ashley and her crew went rogue on the guy. “Oh yeah, we wiped him out like a billion times until he got sick of it.” He kept coming back, she said. “We just kept sniping him.”
Any negativity around Valkyrie Rising’s existence has left its founder unfazed. “Our response is always the same,” The Grapple Girl said over e-mail regarding how she deals with scepticism about the group. “VR is necessary to create a safe space for women in light of the negativity that can be found surrounding the words ‘female gamer.’” To the why-does-this-matter crowd, she says: “representation and inclusion matter.”
Members of Valkyrie Rising are now tackling new challenges. Ashley’s been trying to find a way to clear an easier version of the raid with fewer than the recommended eight players. The Valkyrie Rising group hosts weekly speedrun challenges, offers training for women who want to learn the mechanics of the raid and has been expanding to encompass players of Borderlands 3. The group will likely also have spots for women who play the upcoming Call of Duty and Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
“We all share in the same goal as found in VR’s welcome and rules – to play, play hard, play smart, play better,” The Grapple Girl said, hyping up the idea of more women joining the Valkyrie Rising Discord. She hopes any women who are interested in joining in to message “thegrapplegirl” on PSN or Discord. And, of course, The Division 2’s developers plan to add more raids to the game. The women of Valkyrie Rising will be ready for them.