Scarlett Benson Shiloh ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
For the longest time, eSports was the sub-genre of sports that almost no one knew about. Those that knew about the competitive gaming scene were either a part of it or an onlooker who grumbles about how ‘kids these days do nothing but sit and play on their TV!’ However, since its humble beginnings, the eSports community has gained many members and fans. Some of the highest-ranking competitors certainly make a nice living, being awarded thousands upon thousands of dollars for tournament victories. Tournaments are held in large stadiums where hundreds of thousands of people attend to watch their favorite teams compete. However, like many aspects of the gaming world, there is an enormous difference in representation of different genders. In other words, women tend to be excluded from the face of eSports, and eSports in general. The gaming community, in general, has an enormous disparity in gender representation, both in games themselves and in its culture; eSports is an area where this imbalance is significantly visible.
To make the first primary points to support my argument, let’s take a quick Google search of ‘eSports competitors’.
The point? The main competitors shown in the general image of eSports of all games are men. This isn’t to say there are no female competitors—in fact, there are quite a few! This is mainly going to say that men have more of a presence in eSports, and as such have more chances to earn large amounts of money at tournaments, or be in tournaments at all. Another instance of the face of eSports being mainly males is in the book In Real Life by Lawrence Tabak depicts a high school boy, Seth Gordon, on his journey to join the top Korean team of the competitive game, Starfire. This book had a perfectly good opportunity to discuss diversity and inclusion in the eSports community, however, there was only one girl mentioned—not even shown—in the entire book, who was part of the tournament. The rest of the girls were romantic interests, or Korean girls fawning over him (which, let’s not even start on the casual racism and microaggressions in the book.) In Real Life had a lot of potential to be a great discussion on issues within the eSports community, and it’s quite a shame that it didn’t even dare touch on the subject of girls in eSports when it had a great opening too. This may not seem like such a big issue, at surface level. However on closer look, this leads women feeling isolated, and as if they don’t have a place in eSports because it’s ‘only for guys’.
This feeling of exclusion isn’t the only thing women trying to enter the game have to deal with. Multiple bad ingredients come together to create a horrifying cocktail for women in gaming. Rape culture, hypermasculinity, the fragile male ego, and the overly competitive atmosphere of gaming competitions leads to women getting rape or death threats upon trying to compete. Win, lose, or even before a match, women are told that they’ll be sexually assaulted should they decide to enter the game. That’s a little scary, to say the least, and causes a chain reaction that makes women feel too unsafe to even try.
In the summer of 2014, a tournament of Hearthstone gathered attention upon declaring a ‘men-only’ rule. This barred women (or non-binary people at that) from participating in the tournament. According to PCGamer, Markus “Olodyn” Koskivirta, head admin of the Assembly Summer 2014 Hearthstone IeSF Qualifier, stated, “this is to avoid possible conflicts among other things.” While this rule was later recanted, and this case certainly isn’t common, it highlights a huge deeper issue that was the cause of it. Because women are seen as unusual to play in eSports, many competitions and tournaments don’t welcome them, whether outwardly stated or not.
The toxic community isn’t the only factor barring women from making it big in eSports. The difference in wages between male and female competitive gamers is also extremely staggering. Business Insider has done multiple polls on the wages of competitive gamers, two on the 15 highest-paid female professionals, and the 15 highest-paid professionals in general. The #1 for the former is Katherine ‘Mystik’ Gunn, a Dead or Alive 4 and Halo: Reach player, who has earned $122,200 in her career; the #15 for the latter is Park ‘Lyn’ Joon, who, on the contrary, has earned a whopping $317,610. That’s a $195,410 difference. While this may not be a statement so much on discrimination of female competitive gamers, this statistic definitely highlights the lack of presence of women in eSports. In order to make more money, people need to play in more tournaments. If the top-earning female player earns about a third of the 15th most-earning male player, clearly, skill isn’t being called into question.
Gaming has come a long way regarding combating sexism in the community and industry, yet in some respects, the industry and community have not come far enough. While video games are definitely a male-dominated industry, this doesn’t mean women should be shoved out of the picture, especially women who are making competitive gaming their profession. There are, however, many ways the community and industry can combat this—openly encouraging women and girls to enter competitions, to enter competitive gaming, and to aim to be the best is one suggestion. Another platform would be to hold people accountable for harassing/attacking women in the competition to show people that the kind of sexism and violence women face is not acceptable.
This isn’t meant to be an attack on men in the competition, or men/gaming culture in general. Rather, this is to open a dialogue on what can be done to ensure that men, women, and nonbinary people have a fair chance in competitive gaming, not judged by their gender, race, or sexual orientation, but rather by their strategy, sportsmanship, and gaming ability.
What do you think about gaming competitions excluding women from competing? Let us know in the comments.