Plug & Play: Esports need more gender diversity

Esports is posed as the great equalizer. Physical build, gender and strength do not matter. Whether it be an FPS, MOBA or RTS game, being a 6-foot-5, 230-pound man does not give you an advantage. 

I grew up watching traditional sports like football, baseball and hockey. In those sports, men dominate at the professional level. However, the industry has seen a push for women’s sports in recent years. Top-level women’s teams, like the U.S. national soccer team, have become spectacles for viewers. TV providers have started to include more women’s sports, and their respective fan bases are growing each year as a result.

But many viewers, for poor reasons, are reluctant to hop on the bandwagon. “Why would I watch the women when the men are better?” the argument goes. The purpose of this column is not to scold those ignorant sports fans. Even though I strongly disagree with their argument, let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. 

Men inherently can run faster and jump higher and are stronger than women. That’s biology. It doesn’t make women’s sports any less competitive or entertaining, but it does mean that the top female athletes most often cannot compete against their male counterparts. 

Esports strips any biological advantages from influencing individual skill level. I, a 6-foot, 170-pound male, have no natural skill advantage in esports over my 5-foot, 90-pound female friend. 

Skill level in esports is measured by strategy, situational awareness, technical ability and, in some games, reaction time. All of these are learned skills that require no physical ability.

Go to a football game and look at the players. You’re going to find a lot of guys that look like they live inside an L.A. Fitness and eat a bowl of steroids for breakfast. 

Look at a professional esports stage. They aren’t the stereotypical mom’s-basement-dwelling, Dorito-eating gamer you might expect, but they definitely aren’t freaks of nature. They look like normal people. 

That should be inspiring to young e-athletes. Their talent is only measured by their skill and finesse in-game, not biological gifts. Women and men, old and young, shredded and flabby, —there is no inherent advantage. 

 So why is it that men dominate the esports sphere? The majority of e-athletes are male, and the women’s teams are most often separated from competing against their male counterparts. When they do compete alongside men, women are the minority. 

The League of Legends’ League Championship series hasn’t featured a woman since 2016, and the Overwatch League had just one woman in the entire league last year.

There shouldn’t be a difference in skill ceiling between the two sexes, so why is the esports scene so disproportionately male?

The esports community can be both a fantastic and a really bad place. I have met some of my best friends through esports, but some esports communities are extremely toxic and sexist, pushing women out of the game. I would quote some of the things I have heard that were said to other players, specifically women, while playing video games, but they are far too vile to print.

In 2014, Anita Sarkessian, a feminist media critic, had to cancel a speech she was supposed to give at Utah State University on inequality in esports. The New York Times reported that she received an anonymous email stating that if she spoke, “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it.”

This is just a sample of the toxic culture in esports. People are able to hide behind a screen and make sexist remarks or threats without fear of repercussions. If this culture persists, what are the incentives for women to get into esports? There are none.

In the five years since that incident, the community has improved, at least to an extent. Regardless, there is still little incentive for women to join esports.

So how do we fix this? I will be writing an entire column on the community aspect later in the semester, as it is an issue that would be too nuanced to delve into for this column. The community should not take all the blame. 

Esports organizations and game developers need to do a much better job marketing women’s esports. I have never stumbled upon a women’s esports broadcast, and I only occasionally see promotional esports content on social media. 

With professional esports still in its infancy, the market is at a key point. It can either continue what it is doing and let women in esports lay in the shadows of their male counterparts for decades to come, or it can begin pushing women’s esports on viewers, encouraging young women that the profession has a place for them as well.

This is an issue that will perpetuate itself if not corrected, as women currently have little reason to pursue professional esports. At this point, few people actively search for female professional esports, but if the industry puts the content in front of the viewer, perhaps the community will begin to embrace it.

Sam Arslanian is a junior writing about esports. He is also a former sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Plug & Play,” runs every other Wednesday.