Why aren't there more women in e-sports?
When you look at the demographics of pro gamers you tend to see a few patterns. The most obvious is that they are below the age of 25 and they are male.
So where are all the women pro gamers? The professional gaming scene doesn’t form a reason to segregate male and female. It isn’t like football where women could get seriously hurt due to the size differences. As far as gaming goes we only need a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, all of which has nothing to do with gender. Yet we still see only the occasional female gamer popping up at premier level tournaments.
At Blizzcon 2016, many were surprised to see Riley “Kitty” Frost on the French Overwatch team. On reflection, it isn’t something that people should have been surprised about. There is no reason she shouldn’t be in the upper echelon of the game. Now that reports are surfacing that Overwatch player Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon might be signing with Overwatch League team, Shanghai Knights, maybe pro teams may take their testosterone-filled blinders off more often.
There should be absolutely nothing stopping these women from getting to that higher level, right? But if you actually break it down, there actually is quite a bit.
By the Numbers
These days women make up a considerable portion of the gaming community; according to a 2012 study by Entertainment Software Association (ESA) 53 percent of gamers were male and 47 percent female. They went on to say that “women 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (30 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).” It is worth noting that these numbers include mobile gaming.
Just from those numbers alone, we can see that women are an enormous demographic that the gaming industry needs to take into consideration. Women buy games just 4 percent less than men do, which with the numbers video games pull in is still quite a large sum of money. If those ratios hold true to this day then women account for around 44 billion in sales in 2016 (48% of the 91.8Bn). Don’t think those numbers aren’t going to increase in the next few years. Newzoo projects revenues to increase over the next few years to 118.6Bn in 2019.
And despite the large ratio of female gamers it is estimated that only 5 percent of the pro gamers are female. With those numbers in mind let’s take a look at what women have to deal with.
The video game culture is by far the most inhibitive aspect stopping female gamers from competing at the upper levels. Men dominated the video game market from its inception, but as you can see, this is no longer the case. While the demographics have changed, a lot of the culture in gaming has not.
One common complaint, though this isn’t exclusively for video games, is the idea of gatekeeping. Men may often feel they own certain activities, and therefore any women trying to compete/participate has to prove themselves worthy. They have to prove that they know just as much, or even more in some cases, than others to be accepted. You like Halo? What’s Master Chief’s call sign? It may sound like an innocuous question but it’s laden with undertones. These create impossibly high standards designed to keep people out of the community.
Since we’re on the topic of Halo, let’s move onto body armor and character design. Cortana is a prime example of what women are forced to deal with throughout the gaming industry. Despite the prominence of her character in the series, her complexity, and the implications she presents when it comes to relationships, she is still clad in less than a bikini. Why? There is no reason for her not to dress like Dr. Catherine Halsey, or be in full Spartan body armor.
Other games are just as guilty of this, even more so since many don’t give the characters the depth that Cortana has. A quick Google search will show you the numerous sets of bikini armor in World of Warcraft. Today you can transmog that armor away, but it wasn’t always the case.
Korean artist Kim Hyung-tae, of the Magna Carta games, is another prime example. His female character design focuses heavily on sexiness, showing as much skin as possible, and a unique view of the female form, while his male characters are much less provocative. If you’re looking for more examples just look at Ivy or almost any other female character from the SoulCalibur series.
Whiles some of the skimpy outfits and sexy characters can be made “appropriate” through lore, that doesn’t really excuse it. I can’t express this any better than the folks over at Riot, so I’ll let them take it from here.
“I think it’s important we make another, not because “OMG SEX APPEAL,” but because “I feel attractive” is a compelling character fantasy that a lot of players (men and women) really attach to. The key is the character’s looks HAVE TO MAKE SENSE. Visuals should support the overall theme of a character, not be there in spite of it. The way Caitlyn looks makes no sense for a prim and proper sheriff. The way Ahri looks makes a ton of sense for a succubus." - Champion Designer, Jinxylord on making the next sexy girl champion.
That’s the great thing about video games; they let you escape into an entirely different persona. We like to imagine ourselves as that main character in many instances. When things become ridiculous, things start to fall apart. Imagine Master Chief fighting the Covenant in a loincloth so that we could see his shapely pectorals and toned legs.
The obstacles aren’t just in the visuals. Women face other challenges when it comes to common features like voice chat or actually just playing the game. There are many stories of women talking on voice chat for the first time and the chat blowing up because a woman is present. They are often continually harassed, threatened, and sometimes even stalked.
Professional gamer Stephanie Harvey stated in an interview with BBC last year that, “It’s still a ‘boy’s club’ so as a woman you’re automatically judged for being different… The way I get harassed is about what they would do to my body, about why I don’t deserve to be there because I use my sexuality – it’s all extremely graphic.”
It’s because of things like this that women hide when it comes to online gaming. It’s why they refuse to get on voice chat, or if they do they refuse to talk because they know the consequences of such a simple interaction. Even if a story of harassment is one in one hundred, it’s still not worth it for many women. After winning five world championships, being a successful video game developer, founding Missclicks, Stephanie Harvey still receives unwarranted harassment.
With that harassment women are discouraged from playing the very video games they love. If you are abused every time you log on, even if it’s just one person, it makes your experience atrocious. Once you get more exposure that harassment can be more prominent as more and more information about you is revealed.
Along the road to professionalism, many gamers turn to streaming. It’s a great way to get yourself known and make a little money along the way. Gaming at the lower levels still doesn’t yield that much money so it’s important for aspiring pros to have ways to supplement their income, while also training.
Not only is there the money aspect of streaming, but you can also gain popularity in the gaming community. Many of the well-known pro gamers have active streams and a dedicated fanbase that supports them financially. When a pro team is looking to pick up a new player, having a loyal fan-base migrating with them is probably a small contributing factor as well.
As with other aspects of gaming, women face a lot of challenges here. Most streamers have a small camera on screen showing themselves while they play. It helps your audience get to know you better. It allows your audience to feel just a little more connected to you, which could translate into income. Sadly, revealing yourself does give harassers another avenue to harass you.
In addition, we all have seen, or perhaps even know, a streamer who uses her sexuality to garner a following. While many are skilled players, some decide to make more money by catering to men’s baser instincts. This is not a condemnation. You can’t argue that there isn’t money to be made in this way. Just be sure to take stock and realize this may be feeding into the culture that we want to avoid. Men are equally culpable in this situation because if it didn’t work these streamers wouldn’t do it.
In China, the gaming team Twin Flower Girls acknowledged last year the fact that looks matter when it comes to women pro gamers. In the Chinese market, team manager Yu Hao stated that some team managers will hire models and train them up to be gamers. If two resumes are in front of them, and one girl is significantly more attractive than the other, they’ll go with the more attractive player.
So what is the answer?
Sadly it’s not easy to solve this problem. We can continue to educate ourselves and move down the road. Being aware of these issues and working with other gamers to dispose of these negative behaviors is a step in the right direction. This problem will be solved when we can see more women at the top levels of pro gaming.
Female-only tournaments are a start to helping out with this problem. It creates a space for women to compete without feeling isolated, which can be seriously inhibitive to gaming ability. If you don’t feel comfortable in your surroundings your performance will drop. Furthermore, it’s much more likely that a female-only tournament will treat a newcomer better than a traditional tournament’s fans might.
Of course, women want to compete in the main tournaments as well. Without joining the mainstream competition, they risk stagnating in both skill and payoff potential. The current tournaments for women pay very little in compared to the male-dominated tournaments. The winners of China’s Lady Star League took home around $22,000, meanwhile, this year’s LoL spring split champs took home $100,000, second place, $50,000, third place, $30,000, and fourth place, $20,000.
If you have your doubts about female-only tournaments you need to remember that this isn’t a new thing. Chess has been doing this, and it’s been quite a positive force. Over the years it has helped the sport grow and bring many of those players into the public eye.
We also need to be encouraging women to play video games at the younger age brackets. The demographics are still heavily skewed at the younger ages because it isn’t culturally seen as something girls should do. So, don’t exclude them. Give them the same chances you would your male friends. Encourage your little or big sister to play some games with you. I know I always enjoyed playing Mario Kart 64 with my older sister.
Hold your game designers accountable. Don’t let them get away with sexist character design. Fans did this with Overwatch in two instances. The first was the complaint that all the female characters were svelte, which wasn’t representative of the overall populace. Zarya was the result of this. Then there was the Tracer “butt” pose controversy, which brought up the question of “is this pose really indicative of Tracer’s personality or did we just make her sexy for sexy’s sake?”
If we are getting questions like this in a game as diverse as Overwatch imagine what the lesser-known studios may be getting away with since they aren’t in the spotlight as much as Blizzard Entertainment is.
And finally, start accepting that women can be just as talented as men when it comes to gaming. Accept that they are the ones streaming, instead of throwing out accusations that they get someone else to play for them. Accept that they aren’t cheating or boosted, and encourage your friends to be positive influences in the gaming community.
For what it's worth, here some of pro gaming's most successful women: