Esports has an advantage over traditional sports in a very peculiar way – it doesn’t discriminate based on things like height, weight, or gender. Well, not in theory anyway – in practice, it doesn’t quite work out like that.
Women are extremely underrepresented in esports, and for a fairly obvious reason: Sexism! Historically, gaming has always been a male hobby, and women used to be actively excluded from it. In the good old days of ‘that’s a boy’s hobby’ and ‘video games are for boys’, it’s no wonder that a lot of women didn’t engage with gaming the way they might have wanted to.
Now that this attitude is changing, however, the underrepresentation is still going strong – why? It’s true, there is no more openly accepted attitude of ‘women don’t belong’ anymore, esports still sees very few of them participate.
Discrimination in play
A good example for why is Geguri. The South Korean Overwatch pro is and was the first (and so far, only) woman to earn a spot on the Overwatch League. When she joined, several players openly accused her of cheating and claimed women couldn’t play as well as she did. She went out of her way to prove them wrong, filming herself, and even her hand on her mouse, to prove she was legit. Many of her accusers quit esports altogether, and Geguri definitely showed them up, but being confronted with that sort of conflict is something that a lot of women have to contend with if they want to go into esports.
The thing to note here is that they shouldn’t have to. Nobody particularly notices when talented male Korean players join the esports scene. People may joke that he must be cheating to be so good, but there won’t be serious accusations. Meanwhile, skilled female players have to be willing to face accusations like that on top of the existing stress of just playing high-profile competitions. It’s no wonder this doesn’t appeal to many.
Making Blizzard history
Another anecdote – the incredibly talented Liooon, a Hearthstone player, was the first woman to win a Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Final, as well as the first woman to win a BlizzCon esports tournament at all. She recounted that even as she signed up for the tournament that very year, some men behind her were actively telling her to go home, that she doesn’t belong, and that the game wasn’t for women.
She ignored it and proved she was the best – but again, a lot of women rightfully don’t want to face that sort of situation, even if they are interested in and talented at an esports game. Additionally, women that are willing to put up with this, have to face something else – the expectation of their being a role-model for other women.
While some may enjoy that, it’s definitely not something that every woman wants – a constant spotlight, as well as more than a few ill-intentioned observers. Meanwhile, while a male player could choose to champion a cause, there is no expectation to do so.
Is the discrimination real?
When it comes to this topic, there are always voices that claim that men and women have equal opportunities already. While it may be true that there are few if any tournaments that outright ban women from playing now, history has taught us that not forbidding something isn’t the same as equality.
The highest-earning female esports pro in 2021 is Scarlett, a StarCraft pro who has earned almost 400k USD across her career. While impressive, there are more than 300 men ahead of her in the rankings, despite the fact that Scarlett is recognized as one of the best players in a very popular esport. She’s almost a household name – how many of the men who have out-earned her do you think you can name?
What is being done?
Thankfully, this issue isn’t going ignored – plenty of esports pros, organisers and other esports personalities are actively encouraging to lower the barriers of toxicity and exclusion that keep so many women away. There are workshops, panels, and dedicated tournaments that give women spaces to explore esports without any expectation or fear of misogyny or other kinds of discrimination.
Ultimately, a separation by gender isn’t the point, but it works as a start, to allow women to dip their toes in, so to speak. Already, some 30% of esports fans are female (which is quite low compared to the 45+% of gaming fans that are female) but these numbers are changing for the better. There are even pro teams made up partially or entirely of women now – and they are more than capable of signing with top brands. Evil Geniuses for example have signed two female players for their new Valorant roster.
Moves like that make it clear that women are welcome in the esports space – no matter how much it may upset the sexists!