At the beginning of this century, the eSports industry was not yet a significant player, although it already existed as a niche of video and computer games. The importance and interest only began to increase with the rise of the internet and its infrastructure. Especially among the younger generation, eSports today have a significant meaning. Worldwide, professional players duel each other in countless tournaments online and offline and are enthusiastically celebrated by their millions of fans. Unlike traditional sports, where men have a physical advantage, physical attributes are unrelated to high performance in eSports, allowing both men and women to compete in the same eSports tournaments, but women still remain underrepresented.
Esports remains a male-dominated industry, with women’s participation currently at 35%. Unlike traditional women athletes who have institutionalized paths to professionalism, eSport players typically build their careers individually, negotiating tricky domestic circumstances and forming professional identities via player communities. Rogstad says that women are often marginalized in terms of access to these communities, through which they might develop skills. Men organize the Esports industry, for men, resulting in a highly masculine environment. The sexism in a male-dominant gaming culture makes gender an obstacle for women to participate in eSports. Issues such as male masculinity and online harassment still linger in these online communities, as per Bo Yu. This leads to female viewers having no role models to look up to, which results in lesser participation in gaming from a young age.
Game developers have to change the non-perception of women as per Natalie Denk, to bring out more participation throughout the different age groups. A lot of people enjoy gaming because it helps them escape their day-to-day life, as you can be whoever you want to be in a video game, but when you don’t have proper representation, this leads to an issue. Some game developers have started to recognize these factors with Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch having nearly half of its playable characters as females, EA Sports including women clubs in FIFA 23, 2K Games including the WNBA division from the NBA2K 2019 edition and Ubisoft’s Assassins creed having the option to select a male or a female main character for the story mode.
Like traditional sports, eSport spectators are motivated to watch games to learn, support athletes and escape from their culture and be part of something global. There needs to be an increased gender competence in journalism as well, to bring out inspirational stories about women in eSports that will help spread awareness and inspire young girls. One way to tackle this is to create female-only leagues to increase coverage and greater participation among younger audiences. Just like traditional sports, coverage around women eSports is increasing, and women gamers like Sasha Hostyn, Xiao Meng and Katherine Gunn are proving the point that women can compete with men at the highest levels.
What do you think about the current situation and do you see women and men represented equally in eSports in the future? If not, what do you feel is the biggest roadblock?