How Esports Needs To Change To Support Women In Competitive Gaming
Developers, tournament organisers, and esports organisations understand that a lot of effort is needed to bring women to esports.
For as long as gaming (in particular, competitive gaming) has been around, women have been underrepresented and underappreciated. While that’s mostly still the case today, things are looking up. Developers, tournament organisers, and esports organisations understand that a lot of effort is needed to bring women to esports and to bring equality and equity a little closer.
Women in gaming face toxicity and exclusion like men will never encounter. With social norms already putting women at a disadvantage, the online space is an even more unwelcome environment. Some people ignore them; some people give them all kinds of creepy attention… it’s never easy. For men, it can be difficult to imagine how hard it actually is.
Caitlin "Ravena" Reed, a Rocket League player, talked about her experience playing in 6Mans on the Salt Cast podcast. In 6Mans, players queue in their separate ranks until six in a given rank have thrown their digital hat into the ring. In a twist on ranked matchmaking, the players have to hop into their team's designated voice call, which encourages more communication.
“6mans is a place where you go, you play games, it's like competitive but with voice chat and stuff, and it's held in quite high regard. As a woman, you can't play in 6mans. You can't. You will either get people being benevolently sexist - so, flirting with you all the time and treating you weirdly - or you get people who look down on you, and don't want to queue with you because of it. Every time I've been in 6mans, I've had people queue-sniping me, they've been toxic towards me, I've had people flirting with me... every single time.”
On top of that, it can be hard for girls who get into gaming to see any prospect in an esports career. There are very few female role models in gaming, and that doesn’t help anyone. It gives girls the impression that gaming is not for them. Then again, not every woman in gaming seeks the spotlight to represent female gamers. In an interview with Associated Press, Overwatch player Kim "Geguri" Se-Yeon said she's grateful that girls can look up to her. “But I don’t really have any thoughts about it. That’s not how I want to be known.”
Finally, there’s the basic sports psychology principle of underperforming when you know you’re not regarded as equals. Studies found out that women solving a problem when told they’re generally not as good at it as men, will perform worse than women who weren’t told that. This goes for gaming as well: the gaming environment simply isn’t equal when women are told they’re not as good.
All this supports the need for affirmative action. Affirmative action is taking a disadvantaged or underrepresented group, and overrepresenting them, in an attempt to normalise the presence of that group. It won’t always feel like equality to men, but “equality feels like oppression when you're used to privilege”, as Ravena put it.
Coming into action
Riot Games, who were criticised a few years ago for a culture of sexism within the company, are showing they're committed to push and promote their initiatives for marginalised genders, and other developers and tournament organisers could learn from them. With the VALORANT Challengers Tour (VCT) Game Changers, Riot Games introduced a year-long program with the goal of creating new opportunities and exposure for marginalised genders within VALORANT, through a combination of community events and top-tier competition. They’re working together with Nerd Street Gamers for the production, and GALORANTS for the community portion of the events.
Esports analyst Josh "Sideshow" Wilkinson is happy with this initiative: “The playing field isn't equal. If you give women more opportunities to play in their own circuit, you're more likely to develop elite-level talent that will be able to feed into the larger circuit,” he said on the podcast Plat Chat VALORANT.
The elite-level talent is certainly on the way for VALORANT. The most notable all-female team is Cloud9 White, who won the VCT Game Changers Series I without dropping a single map. But Cloud9 is by no means the only esports organisation investing in all-female teams. CLG, Moon Raccoons, Dignitas, and TSM all signed teams that competed in VCT Game Changers.
Signing an esports team often doesn't have immediate returns on investment. Instead, it's a rather long-term commitment for an organisation to be a part of the esports environment. That so many organisations are now committing to signing an all-female team, when they already have a team in VALORANT, indicates that these organisations trust Riot Games to take women in gaming seriously.
Women in gaming have a long way to go, but every little step takes us further. In the long run, it means a bigger demographic can enjoy esports; then we’ll have more fans to cheer on the women when they’re winning.
Images via Cloud9 | TSM