Get in the game for your next leadership opportunity.
By Jessica Gulick, Founder and Commissioner, US Cyber Games
May 1, 2023

An introduction to this article appeared in the monthly Creating Connections newsletter put together by the women of The CyberWire. This is a guest-written article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, not necessarily the CyberWire, Inc.

Get in the game for your next leadership opportunity.

Cyber competitions have all the same elements as sports: Esports stadiums, vibrant uniforms (often complete with sponsor patches!), a thriving fan community, and most importantly teams of top cyber athletes and coaches. Well-known and large-scale competitions such as DEF CON CTF, DOE’s CyberForce, CCDC, Pwn2Win, and the International Cybersecurity Championship (ICC) can attract thousands of participants and spectators from all over the world.

But who are the cyber athletes, and why (and how) do they get into the game?

It starts with our cyber communities.

Unlike Manchester United, the New York Yankees, or Royal Challengers Bangalore, cyber teams often go unheralded. Instead they are the best sort of teams, defined not by geography, but rooted in community.

PlayCyber Global League provides an example, an international community welcoming cyber athletes of all proficiency levels. Members come together to game, sharpen their cybersecurity skills, and enjoy networking with fellow enthusiasts. It is home also to several specialized communities, such as the PlayCyber Women’s Global League. This community of women in cybersecurity hails from more than 30 countries, all of whom are invited to participate in its signature annual event, WICKED6, a 24-hour virtual hack-and-chat benefitting another women’s cyber community, the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu.

Similarly, the US Cyber Games has a thriving community of young, cyber-interested individuals (all genders) who are US citizens, competing for a spot on the national US Cyber Team. Its Pipeline Program has offered women like Gwen Vongkasemsiri the opportunity to hone their skills and earn a spot on the next season’s team.

Vongkasemsiri, a Dakota State University student and aspiring cybersecurity professional, says,“I’m everlastingly grateful for the unwavering support and guidance that I received during the Season I Pipeline Program. It paved the way for me to make it onto the Season II, US Cyber Team this year!”

As a US Cyber Team member, she’ll be one of 30 athletes, ages 18–25 and representing 14 states, selected to compete at the International Cybersecurity Championship and Conference (IC3), held in San Diego, California, from July 31–August 4, 2023. She will need to pool her skills with fellow teammates to battle it out on CTF, Red v. Blue, and Hardware Challenges against cyber athletes from 65+ countries around the world in a contest sometimes referred to as the Olympics of Cybersecurity.

SPECIAL NOTE: Season III of the US Cyber Games opens on June 1. All are invited to register to play in the US Cyber Open CTF.

Community is an essential aspect of cyber gaming, as it requires collaboration to be competitive. Mansi Thakar, Director for PlayCyber Global League, notes, “Having a safe space to try out new skills and be around people who share your enthusiasm for cybersecurity is empowering. As a result, hundreds of women played cyber games for the first time at WICKED6.”

Practice leadership as a player or coach.

In communities and teams like these, opportunities abound for women to step into leadership roles. Whether it’s captaining a team of gamers in a local capture the flag (CTF) or coaching at the national level, women gain valuable experience leading and developing teams and become role models for future women in the industry.

While some may believe leadership is innately gifted, leadership is very much a skill that can be learned and developed through practice. It may require you to step outside your comfort zone, perhaps getting comfortable directing the action instead of just executing. Or carving time out of a busy schedule to prioritize your own development. But practicing leadership has many benefits.

Leadership skills help you qualify as a candidate for promotions and managerial roles. You’ll strengthen your interpersonal skills and can differentiate yourself with an ability to develop collaborative, diverse, high-performing teams. Saying yes to leadership roles can also provide an opportunity to expand your network, connecting with others who can help you stay on top of key trends, provide mentorship, or help you access valuable resources. And in some cases, like coaching the US Cyber Team, there are opportunities to fulfill passions such as travel.

It’s well-known that women can find it hard to put themselves first, so also consider how important it is to practice leadership as a way for you to give back, or pay it forward. As leaders, coaches, or mentors, women have a chance to ensure that there is representation at all levels in the industry. You are showing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals that there are amazing roles for people that look like them and there’s no limit to what they can achieve.

Coaches and technical mentoring staff are being recruited now for the US Cyber Games. There are numerous roles for experts across various disciplines in cybersecurity to guide the cyber athletes in technical skill development, teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and leadership. In its inaugural season, two of the five US Cyber Games coaches were women. That shrunk to one of eight in Season II, solely due to lack of applicants for these positions. Looking to reverse this trend in 2023, women in cybersecurity are urged to consider applying to coach.

Coaching can make a huge impact on others. Vongkasemsiri notes of her US Cyber Games experience, “The small group sessions led by coaches who were experts on the topic were priceless. I learned so much from their coaching and mentorship.”

Unleash your leadership potential and get in the cyber game. Visit: to register to play or coach. And check out: for year-round CTF play and community chat.