Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Women and eSports

The status of women in the industry

E-Sports (or eSports) is the official term of Electronic Sports used to describe video game competitions. The term's first appearance was around the 90s when the Online Gamers Association (OGA) was launched alongside the failed attempt of the UK Professional Computer Gaming Championship (UKPCGC) to get the English Sports Council to recognise competitive gaming as a sport.

The popularity of eSports competitions was extensively increased after 2000 and today it has become a successful industry with a compilation of teams, players, sponsors, politics, casters, streamers, hardcore players, casual players and spectators. Some of the most famous tournaments like World Cyber Games and Intel Extreme Masters offer huge cash prizes and the most popular titles featured in professional competition currently are League of Legends, Dota 2, and StarCraft II.

For further information about eSports watch this:

Traditionally the eSports scene is a "man's world" and women struggled a lot during the past few years in order to find their spot into the scene. It is true that usually women have the role of supporters, observers and fans. But, there is also the case of women professionals inside the industry and their numbers have been increasing during the last five years. Today women are not only fans but also professional gamers, journalists, and presenters for the eSports industry. These are the women I will discuss about. Those who engage in this high-end competition and do not sit comfortably around the battle lines.

The cultural stereotypes

The issue of women's struggle to become a part of eSports industry is rather cultural. There is a common belief between men that women gamers focus on casual gaming like Facebook games. Women who prefer to engage in hardcore competitive games are considered as "weird" and unfeminine. Females are usually linked with their hypothetical sensitive nature and their lack of interest in direct competition. This hypothesis is rooted in the belief of the natural sexual differences which in the case of competitive gaming is nothing but a persistent myth.

Think for a moment about the figure of a woman gamer. There are three variations that usually come to our mind. The smart "geeky" girl, the "hot" girl gamer that you usually see in commercials and the dominant boyish girl usually rendered asexual and unfeminine.

Now, let us focus on the figure of the actual woman gamer. This figure does not originate from false traditional misconceptions, but is the actual identity of the modern culture of women in eSports. Women who are involved with gaming and form a core of interest and passion. These few who study computer science dreaming of a future job in games development or overcome the skills and interest of men into First Person Shooter (FPS) or Multi-player Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games. These are women who in the last few years earned their place into eSports.

In order to take a closer look at FPS and MOBA games click here.

Always bear in mind that, although the current situation attracts more women in the eSports industry than before, most of them are journalists and presenters. Stereotypical theories about the very small number of women professional gamers consider the common refrains that women are just not good enough or that they do not have the the passion to try harder. The truth is that the cultural and social challenges the path of professional gaming has in store for women, discourages most of them. The female-identity challenge and a scene that hardly accepts competitive women and often marginalises them from the rest of male gamers, constitute a social life that fails to attract more women to it.

During the Major Leage Gaming (MLG) Summer Championship of 2012, Evil Geniuses Manager Anna Prosser talked about the the difficulties and the social discrimination women encounter during their first steps into the industry:

Women and professional gaming

The lives of women who decide to become professional gamers reflect a complex combination of the practical issues of being a top eSports player and the challenges that their gender faces in the scene.

The game culture has usually a way of mistreating new players (marked as newbies or noobs in gaming jargon) for their lack of skills and in-game knowledge. This attitude is usually getting worse when the new player is a woman. Most newbie women will completely hide their identity by avoiding voice communication and picking gender-neutral nicknames. When they first “out” themselves they usually address the issue with funny statements trying to go through it with the least possible consequences.

Women who go pro, and unavoidably let their identity to be known, adopt different stances, according to their character, in order to avoid sexism issues.

To reassure others of their gender identity and not be tagged as unfeminine they use avatars that convey sexual attractiveness, mention their “girlie” interests, hobbies or activities and attempt to form a traditional feminine figure. This is their way of getting accepted by the male players.

An example of this behaviour is AquaH2O, a female League of Legends player with more than a million views on her Twitch.tv channel, which she uses to stream her games daily. She achieved a high number of spectators by adopting a sweet feminine stance. In order to get accepted by the male dominated League of Legends community she focuses on her very good looks and on her sweet "girlie" attitude, although she is a highly skilled player.

To visit AquaH2O Twitch.tv channel click here.

The more dominant women adopt forceful gamer profiles, engage in thrash talk and generally invoke a powerful figure of dazzling in-game performance and hyper masculinity behaviour.

Ultimately the commitment and dedication of women in professional gaming is challenged by men in so many ways that they are forced to adopt certain behaviours in order to survive the sexism that characterises eSports industry.

Women-only "solutions" encourage discrimination

Unlike traditional sports, where the ideology of physical difference predominates, eSports have no real reason of not having mixed gender tournaments. However, in order to face the social discrimination against their gender and the prejudice about their skill level women professional gamers formed women-only teams and sponsors created women-only competitions.

For further information about eSports female-only teams and competitions click here.

Sadly, this fact only serves to increase the gender discrimination in eSports. Although there are no rules forbidding women of participating into major tournaments there are no cases of professional women gamers stepping up and challenging the popular eSports male players. The segregation of teams and tournaments on a gender basis will only fuel the arrogant behaviour of those men who treat women as not their equivalent members in the eSports community.

Today the women participate in the eSports industry more than ever. It is important that in the following years they will take advantage of their enthusiasm and prove themselves equally skilled to men. If they want to end the gender discrimination they need to prove that there is no difference between the male and the female gamer. The role of the rest of us is to keep supporting them as they already have key professional roles in the eSports industry.

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