How Have Women Made an Impact on eSports?
Video gaming may seem like a male-dominated form of entertainment, but in reality, women gamers have been on the rise for some time. Across the United States and Europe, almost half of all gamers are now female. You’d think that this would be reflected in the world of eSports, but the truth is that women are still grossly underrepresented in professional gaming communities. Breaking into the pro ranks is tough for any gamer, and it seems like it’s even tougher if you’re female. But there are some women who are beginning to break the mold and pave the way for others to become eSports stars. Let’s look at how women are beginning to put their stamp on the eSports community.
The wider video gaming community has become a pretty inclusive place. Incidents of sexism and misogyny are still fairly commonplace, but younger generations of gamers are quicker to call them out, as they are with other prejudiced and toxic behavior. So why are women underrepresented in eSports?
As the industry is so male-dominated, women may not even consider competing in eSports a legitimate career path – a lack of female role models prevents them from identifying with a figure within the community. Sexism is still prevalent within eSports. As well as instances of sexist behavior, Natalie Denk, researcher, passionate gamer, and co-founder of League of Girls, in her interview for Owayo, says:
“Women must also fear that they will not be judged according to their performance, but according to their gender. If a woman does badly in a game, it quickly means she plays badly because she is a woman.” – Interview on Why are women underrepresented in eSports?
Socially constructed gender roles also play a part, just as they do with male-dominated sports. Video gaming is something that socialization tells us is a boys’ pursuit, and female interest isn’t considered. Likewise, the gaming industry often doesn’t perceive women as a target group, despite women making up half of all gamers.
How to address these issues? Increasing the visibility of female eSports players and personalities, encouraging gender representation and opportunity in clubs and associations, and calling out archaic journalistic trends regarding gender and gaming seems like logical places to start. Denk’s League of Girls initiative is committed to increasing the visibility of females in gaming, with a particular focus on eSports and streaming.
“On the one hand, our goal is to make female gamers visible and to draw attention to the necessary diversity in the scene and on the other hand to promote networking within the eSports scene”.
While Denk’s assertion that eSports lack female role models is true, there are some women out there bucking the trend, and laying foundations for a greater female presence in the community. Here are just a few.
Hostyn is the first woman to win a StarCraft II tournament and has the most career earnings of any professional female gamer – $362,000 in prize money so far. She was noted by Polygon magazine when they named her one of 2014’s 50 admirable gaming people, describing her as “one of the few women succeeding at the top level of the StarCraft II pro scene”. After a switch to Dota 2 for a year, Hostyn returned to StarCraft and won the Intel Extreme Masters tournament, held in the leadup to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Hostyn is a transgender woman but has always played down her identity, preferring to focus on her gaming, and letting her achievements speak for themselves.
Starting out as an eSports host on IGN, Sugita is now the CEO of the League of Legends team FlyQuest, after working as Director of eSports for streaming platform Azubu, and Head of Partnership for Immortals. Her work with FlyQuest has seen her championing progressive environmental causes not often associated with gaming, such as an eco-friendly gaming house called “The Greenhouse Training Facility”, as well as launching a tree planting pledge tied to the team’s performance at LCS Spring Finals in 2020. FlyQuest also voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sugita promoted mental health awareness, and FlyQuest has been a constant champion of inclusivity and equality in gaming and beyond.
Although coming from a non-gaming background raised a few eyebrows Nicole Lapointe Jameson has established herself as one of the most successful women in eSports since taking the position of CEO of Evil Geniuses in May 2019. Jameson is also the first African-American woman to assume such a senior position in the eSports community. Under her watch, EG has been rejuvenated, signing new partnerships with brands, and expanding its staff. And inclusivity is top of the list for Jameson: “I don’t care where you come from. Nor your creed, gender, religion, class, past industry, or sexual orientation…. if you are the best of the best, you have a home here at Evil Geniuses.”.
The underrepresentation of women in eSports is an issue that needs addressing. Hopefully, with inclusivity policies, initiatives, and a growing number of successful female role models, change is around the corner.