Esports - No Girls Allowed
Since its inception, esports has been inherently open. Full access for everyone. Over time however, segregation of men and women has been injected into the scene little by little. Today we see female only teams, organizations, and leagues. All in the name of fair competition (read: marketing).
This segregation has been discussed ad nauseam throughout the years, but mostly falls on deaf ears or adds little direction. People are generally too fearful, think segregation is a good thing, or just don't care.
Esports Is Equality
Equality is a fun topic to discuss isn't it? No ones feelings ever get hurt, and everyone is open to differing opinions, points of view, and perceptions. Fun.
I mean not really. But one of the reasons I personally fell in love with esports back in 2003 was because of what esports offered - truly open and fair competition. It didn't matter if you were a Chinese boy from Beijing, a Canadian girl from Vancouver, or anything and everything in between and outside of that. You could compete. No restrictions (other than the extremely high financial costs of course).
Everyone is equal. It is your skill that determines the final outcome. Somewhere along the line, we lost that.
What Starts At The Bottom, Stays At The Bottom
One of the ideas behind segregation in the first place is to give a platform for female competitors to shine. By allowing them to shine, they can inspire more girls to get into esports and compete.
The problem is, they aren't shining.
Telling girls "you are never going to win, here is your own private competition so you can have a trophy too" is about as empowering as being told you will never succeed and you should give up. And make no mistake, that is what is happening.
Female gamers are treated like second-class esports participants. Not worth a damn.
Barriers In Gaming
Female gamers face immense idiocy from the overall community. Fellow gamers treating them poorly simply because they are women. Sexual harassment. Exclusion. General harassment and bullying. The list goes on. All of this creates a storm of pain female gamers must endure simply to enjoy the pleasures of competitive gaming. Thus contributing to the idea that segregation is a good idea as it creates a safer environment for female gamers.
The thing is, giving female competitors a safe environment isn't doing anything positive for females in esports. And it sure as shit isn't solving the underlying problem, it is simply avoiding it at all costs. In the end the problems remain the same, and females are second-class esports participants relegated to having their own safe space in which to rot away and be forgotten.
There are famous people, and then there are role models. When I began writing this, I couldn't help but think of Kathrine Switzer, the first female to run in the Boston Marathon. Despite nay-sayers and a tournament director physically attempting to stop her, she competed with the men and paved the way for women around the world to be seen as equals - something that is incredibly rare in the world of sports and competition, even today.
Who would you rather look up to as a role model? A girl who only competes with other girls and wins. Or a girl who competes with everyone and struggles to succeed? I would personally argue the latter. Watching the second girl compete at the top of her ability and continuously push herself and progress is a far more inspiring and entertaining story than watching a girl settle for less.
Or what about a female that doesn't struggle to beat any and all competitors?
One female not settling for less is Chiquita Evans - the first female player drafted to the NBA's NBA2K league. Chiquitae126 is one of only three females in recent memory that actually competes at the top levels of her esport alongside all other players. Her story is very similar to many female gamer's stories, as her teammates excluded her in games during the previous year's combine event. Despite the set back, she has risen to become one of the most popular names in the game, receiving the loudest cheers at this years draft.
Another female throwing gender biases in the trash where they belong is, Kim 'Geguri' Se-Yeon, a professional Overwatch player from Korea, currently playing for the Shanghai Dragons. Notably, Geguri was one of the youngest players ever to officially become a professional Overwatch player, at the young age of 17. Geguri is so talented in fact, many professional Overwatch players in Korea accused Geguri of cheating, stating that they would quit Overwatch if she wasn't in fact cheating.
Females And The Sideshow
The argument will be made "well, females aren't barred from competition in open esports events, there aren't male and female competitions, just open and female competitions". Which is true, and also confirms my initial point about esports being about open and fair competition.
But by creating these female only competitions, we are actively saying to female gamers "you are no good, you will never win, but we still want to take advantage of you as marketing tools". These competitions are touted as being good for females in esports as it gives a platform for visibility, but I would argue that it would be better to highlight and showcase the struggling female competitors in open tournaments than create a new league just for the sake of cheap sleazy marketing. Oh yeah, and for a lot less prize money as well. GG
Now don't get me wrong. Im not saying that females stepping up as professionals and opinion leaders is sleazy. Quite the contrary. I believe that if you have a good role model and fans exist, then the Geguri's, Chiquitae126's, and missharvey's of the world should definitely reap the benefits. Im saying that the sideshow female-only events that no one values, watches, or cares about are a pointless and somewhat demeaning method of women marketing in esports.
Less Tournaments, More Content
The nominal amount of money that has been dripped into "female esports" would be better placed on content. Content that showcases amazing stories of female gamers, their setbacks, their failures, and ultimately their stories of success and triumph. I would argue that this content would do far more to spark inspiration and fandom of notable females than poor tournaments no one watches or cares about. I mean, when was the last time you asked "who won the Intel Challenge Series in Katowice this year?" or did you even know it existed at all? Tournaments come and go, but content lives on forever in the hearts and minds of fans around the world.
Wouldn't you rather learn about missharvey's story of how she has been a professional gamer for the past 15 years? Or Chiquitae126 and how she became a professional gamer? By developing stories around professional female gamers that actually matter - future generations will have positive role models to look up to.
The Long Game
It is my personal belief that if esports is ever to get the chance to show men and women competing side-by-side and head-to-head that these pointless sideshows relegating women to being nothing more than inferior competitors and marketing tools, should go the way of the dodo bird.
This is not an over night solution. It will take years of prominent role models like those mentioned in this article consistently breaking boundaries, educating fans, and inspiring younger gamers to follow suite. But in time, thanks to these trail blazers (and more intelligent marketers who understand that they can do way more with the money they waste on female-only competitions by actually supporting female gamers) we will see more females competing at the highest level. Females who before would have shied away from playing video games as a profession because they thought it to be impossible.