Esports continues to skyrocket, with participation in the virtual gaming competitions at all-time highs and viewership hitting new levels. We are even starting to implement esports in our high school and colleges (like Arcadia!).
Although this is an exciting time for people who play video games, and a great opportunity for those who excel to make a living, some groups seem to be left out, namely people of color and people of non-male identifying genders. Specifically, something that interests me is how professional esports organizations and the gaming community exclude those who identify as female.
Personally, being part of Arcadia’s esports has made me proud of the welcoming community that the staff and players try to facilitate. Representation on the various teams far outdo what is reflected at the highest levels of professional play. In collegiate play, this status is generally similar, with the top challenging colleges not having women on their main rosters.
However, Arcadia does! In almost every game we compete in, there are women on the rosters that compete weekly. Our teams are based on who the best players are, not their identities. Outside of the game, it’s also really enjoyable to have diversity on the team. The people that you play with become your close friends quickly; and through the bonds you create with people from different backgrounds, you learn a lot and grow as a person.
All of this makes me question what exactly the reason is for excluding women in top tiers of competition. The issue of women’s representation in esports can be controversial and hard to tackle at times. Many arguments try to take a biological route, stating that men are more competitive at games or more talented biologically, therefore making them more fit for professional play. Others argue that it would be too difficult to have mix-gendered teams, since many professional players are teenagers, suggesting that hormone and sexual/romantic desire would affect team play. And what would a discussion regarding gender be if some people didn’t bring up the female menstrual cycle and how that could hurt team cohesion and consistency in the level of play.
Some arguments take the statistical approach, stating that there are more men that play video games than women and, therefore, there’s a larger pool of professional male players. The problem I have with these arguments is that even if they were all true—which they aren’t—there should be at least one woman who has reached the top level of professional play. But that has not happened. The League of Legends World Championship is a massive tournament in esports, where the best teams from every region come together for the biggest international competition of the year. Last year’s tournament brought in more than 100 million viewers (more than the 2019 Super Bowl) and 24 professional teams (about 120 players).
ZERO of those players were non-male identifying.
This proves there are different forces that oppose women trying to reach professional play. The social challenges that women face are detailed across the internet in global conversations, found within blog posts, forums, and YouTube channels, everything from deep-rooted sexism and rejection of femininity to the general othering of women. These social issues create a much larger roadblock than any biological argument could create. In a class I took last year we were taught about the theory of “predatory groups,” these being spaces where there are perceived senses of purity; in this case, the sense that esports is a “boy’s club.”
However, as competitions start to grow and the exposure of esports expands, these walls need to come down. The term “gamer” or competition should not be barriers of entry for people outside the “traditional” player profile.
Treating people with respect and welcoming new members to a community are just small starting steps that will allow esports to grow in a healthy way for the future.