Why Are There so Few Women in Esports?
On October 19th 2021, G2 Esports announced their first ever all female team. The group of Valorant players, headed up by Julia “Juliano” Kiran, are called G2 Gozen. The team includes one of Esports first ever female player buyouts for Anja “aNNja” Vasalic. The move by G2 came soon after an announcement from London-based team, Guild Esports (co-owned by David Beckham), who also debuted an all female Valorant team last month. The gaming industry has been painfully slow at developing a more inclusive environment for women, but finally seems to be making strides towards positive change. In an industry not confined by things such as physical strength and height, why has gaming been so slow to act on its male dominated culture?
One of the biggest reasons for a lack of gender diversity in Esports is down to the abuse faced by women online. Gaming has long supported a culture of toxic masculinity, particularly when playing online. Anyone who has played online games such Halo or Call of Duty has undoubtedly heard a trove of misogynistic or racist expletives at some point. Anonymity, high stress levels and a lack of real consequences make online gaming a perfect melting pot for offensive and demeaning insults, particularly directed towards women. A report by Evil Geniuses last year found that nearly half of women in gaming experienced gender discrimination. Women comprise 35% of Esport players and 30% of Esport viewership, yet they receive the vast majority of abuse online.
Aside from discirminitation at the player-level, women are also misrepresented and mistreated at the developer-level. In 2018, an investigation by gaming website Kotaku resulted in legal action being taken against Valorant and League of Legends developer Riot Games. Hundreds joined walk out protests, as 5 former employees sued the company over workplace discrimination and harassment. In 2020, Ubisoft, developer of Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, experienced its own sexual harassment scandal. Top executives at Ubisoft were forced to resign, with the founder and chief executive promising a clamp down on "toxic behaviours". More recently World of Warcraft and Call of Duty developer Activision Blizzard were involved in a lawsuit alleging "near daily episodes of humiliation, sexual harassment, and even physical abuse". The sheer number of video games companies involved in these kinds of scandals signals that we may have only reached the tip of the iceberg.
Gaming has long cultivated a "boys club" mentality. Sexism and misconduct in the gaming industry is not caused by a single individual or one company, sadly it is an industry wide issue. For positive change to be made, the culture around gaming itself needs to shift. Bullying and harassment has been rampant in the industry since the dawn of mass produced games consoles in the 1980s. The competitive nature of gaming, as well its tendency to attract lonely white males has created a culture of exclusion and demeaning language. Improving gender and ethnic diversity in gaming is a step in the right direction, but the biggest change needs to come from the industry and gamers themselves.
According to games analyst Newzoo, nearly half of the world's gamers are female. Despite this, we still see a very small proportion of women in professional Esports. Take for example, Dota 2. Dota 2 is one of the world's most lucrative Esports games in the world. $235 million dollars have been awarded to professional players in Dota 2, yet women have only won .002% ($6,300). That's why it's crucial that teams like G2 and Guild Esports focus on developing female talent. Giving women the same level of backing as men in Esports will enable them to move up the ranks quicker and go head-to-head with some of the top funded teams. With G2's Adidas sponsorship we will hopefully see these changes sooner than expected.
The gaming industry isn't all doom and gloom for women. A more inclusive, accountable and better games industry isn't too far on the horizon. Increased support for women and a massive influx of young female gamers is definitely a positive step in the right direction. Gaming operates on a global platform, so it's about time it started representing and championing diversity across the world. Cultural change is not easy, but it is possible. Gaming is gradually making its way there.