9 April 2019

Gaming & gender: how inclusive are eSports?

The rise of eSports has been amazing. It has gone from a minute group of elitists playing at small gatherings and LAN (Local Area Network) tournaments to bombastic televised events, complete with sponsorships and media buys. Heck, Las Vegas and online sportsbooks like sportsbetting.ag even have betting lines on matches nowadays.

So… considering these aspects, eSports have evolved to become a lot like real sports. This begs the question: how inclusive are eSports now that they’ve hit the big time?

With eSports, the big debate is not so much of a debate

There is talk about what is fair. When is it fair for a male to compete with a female, and vis a vis. It is a delicate subject because prerogative comes into play. 

For example, females are ‘protected’ in some disciplines within athletics, whereas males are not. In many circumstances, if a female wants to join the men’s wrestling team or box against male opponents, it would be allowed. However, that doesn’t work the other way around. 

After all, there is a matter of male vs. female physiology at play. That said, is it fair to the male athletes to force them to compete against females, even if the woman is a willing party? The male athlete might be uncomfortable with performing at 100% for fear of harming the female competitor, especially in sports that involve physical combat. After all, a large percentage of boys are still raised to be ‘mindful’ and ‘protective’ of women. 

So in traditional sports, there are legitimate arguments from both sides of the table. But eSports are all about mental acuity, hand-eye coordination, and quick reaction time. In some games, it is more about the ability to strategise effectively and work as a team. eSports are digital, so there are none of the traditional physical hang-ups to get in the way of ‘athletic equality’.

Women are a huge slice of the viewership pie

Just a couple of short years ago, women made up just 23% of the eSports audience. As of 2019, that number has skyrocketed to 30%. Additionally, women purchase video games nearly as much as men do. In fact, on a casual level, the numbers are quite a parabola. According to the PEW Research Center, 48% of women and 50% of men say that they play video games. Of those 48%, just six percent of female video game players identify as ‘Gamers’. 

Going deeper, 57% of women between the ages of 18-29 self-identify that they play video games, while 77% of men in the same age group also say they play video games. However, of those 77%, 33% of males identify as ‘Gamers’, whereas, just 9% of video-game-playing women identify as ‘Gamers’.

So what gives? Is it Gamer culture that keeps women from getting serious about gaming? Obviously, the amount of women, especially younger women who have an interest in video games is extensive, so why do only a few identify as serious gamers?

A recent estimate puts the percentage of female professional gamers at just 5%. When you look at the numbers and see that nearly 60% of women between the ages of 18-29 play videos games, that number is quite shocking. Pro gaming is dominated by males, who take up 95% of the spots.

Video games have traditionally been a Boys’ Club. Think about the stereotypes: a slovenly boyfriend who spends too much time playing video games, and the girlfriend who is perpetually upset that he spends more time staring at the TV than paying attention to their relationship. 

So is it Boys’ Club gate-keeping that keeps women from spending more time gaming, with only the thickest skinned female gamers willing to brave the potential online chat harassment? Is the problem higher up in the industry? Or does it have less to do with male culture as a whole and more to do with female culture? Do the majority of women just not feel the need to spend every waking hour trying to be good at a video game?

Whatever the reasons are, eSports at this point are definitely not inclusive. Tournament promotors and eSports franchises seem to be trying to address this issue, but for more women to want to join the club, change has to come at a grassroots level and eSports leagues have to get beyond a measly 5% female pro gamer participation rate. 

• This article was supplied to The Sports Integrity Initiative as an advertorial

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