Esports is undoubtedly a male-dominated industry. Tune into a tournament broadcast or browse through the popular streamers on Twitch, and the vast majority of people you see will be men.
Of course, that can be partially attributed to a lower female player base amongst the popular esports titles, but women also face unique barriers of entry - barriers that men rarely even have to consider. Whether that comes in the form of stereotyping or outright harassment based on gender alone, it only serves to hold the esports community back.
As a recent example, Vaevictis Gaming, a Russian esports team, signed a fully female roster for their LCL (League of Legends Continental League) team. In their opening match, the opposition, ROX (A fully male lineup) banned five support champions. A common stereotype among League of Legends players is that women only play support, a role that primarily involves helping the team rather than making independent moves.
ROX laughed amongst themselves as they did this, and proceeded to win the game handily, unsurprising against a team of complete rookies, but it added to the humiliation. Vaevictis responded to the criticism by highlighting that the all-women roster is an ongoing 'experiment' and the team is now, in fact, looking to recruit more women to the squad.
We're proud to present you Vaevictis eSports roster for LCL Spring 2019!— Vaevictis eSports (@VaevictisTeam) 10 February 2019
TOP: Diana «TR1GGERED» Ivanchenko
JUNGLE: Aida «Merao» Kazaryan
MID: Elena «VioletFairy» Koval
ADC: Ksenia «Trianna» Mescheryakova
SUPPORT: Nataliya «Ankote» Zayko #vaevictis #leagueoflegends #lcl pic.twitter.com/YzYW72qbnQ
The controversy of Vaevictis spilt onto social media and into the UK esports scene. Billy 'Nutri' Wragg, a League of Legends player for Barrage Esports in the UKLC commented,
“The people who claim sexism isn’t a problem within esports are probably the same people who laugh or make jokes when they see full female roster announcements”.
Billy went on to say: “Specifically I think it’s important to look at the culture and how we’ve normalised sexism at the moment. I would argue terms such as ‘e girl’ are currently seen as reasonably harmless, but their origins are very sexist and even now the term has a very sexist undertone, but we are at a point of normalisation where women are even using this to describe themselves”
Ashley 'Rift' Mayes, an English player for Unicorns of Love disagreed, stating “So many industries are female dominated and so many are male-dominated.” He then added “Wanting to see more of one gender in an industry just because they are that gender instead of being skilled in the work is dumb”.
This is a common argument when the topic of women in esports is mentioned. Ashley isn’t necessarily wrong in his assessment of Vaevictis though, they are of a drastically lower skill level than their league opponents. However, the question then becomes: If Vaevictis had been an all-male team, would their humiliating defeat have been spread over social media quite so voraciously? Perhaps, but far more likely the match would never have even reached an audience outside of Russia.
The story of Vaevictis is just one of many stories in esports and gaming that seem to exist only to warn women of the trials they may have to face if they don’t succeed. Even in a casual setting such as streaming on Twitch, women can be subject to harassment from what is a dominantly male viewer base. An issue which is not helped when the platforms most popular streamer, Tyler 'Ninja' Blevins, publicly refuses to play with other women, spreading the perception that women are the source of 'drama.'
Although, many organisations are fighting to change that perception.
Women in Games, a non-profit organisation that supports female gamers released a report with suggestions on how to improve gender diversity in the video game industry. One of the key suggestions was: Women’s esports should be seen as a product of its own, as opposed to a byproduct of men’s esports.
Steph 'MissHarvey' Harvey, a competitive female Counter-Strike player who has nine major trophies to her name agrees, saying:
“It’s so much stronger to be inspired by someone you relate to. I saw women compete and I wanted to win that World Cup.”
Another woman leading the fight for diversity in the esports industry is Se-yeon 'Geguri' Kim, who became the first woman to play in the Overwatch League last year. The 19-year-old is a tank player for the Shanghai Dragons.
Even a player of her ability was subject to doubt from the community when she first emerged in South Korea. Fans and professionals alike accused her of cheating, perhaps simply not believing that a woman could be that talented at Overwatch. As a result, Geguri was forced to record a session of herself playing to prove that she was just that good.
Players like Steph in Counter-Strike and Se-yeon 'Geguri' Kim in Overwatch are leading the charge when it comes to pushing diversity in the industry. The extra hurdles that they have had to overcome will hopefully become nothing more than remnants of a forgotten chapter in esports history.