Source: Lemur Legal
The separation of gender in traditional sports is so integrated in our culture that the subject is one we rarely think about. The main reason why there even is a gender separation, is because men have different performance levels due to their higher testosterone levels. However, as esports are played in a different way than traditional sports, they don’t require to be played by players that are the same weight or even gender. For this reason, gender separability in esports tournaments and women’s representation therein, is a hot topic at the moment.
Popularity of esports among women
Although esports is rapidly gaining exposure and becoming one of the industries where youngsters can build their careers in, representation of women within the industry is incomparable to the representation of men. For instance, in 2019 women made up only 30% of the esports audience. However, when it comes to playing video games, it may be surprising that 57% of women between the ages of 18-29 play video games, while the percentage of men playing electronic sports is 77%. From this 77% of men, 33% of males identify as “gamers”, whereas, just 9% of video-game-playing women identify as “gamers”. Another very eloquent information is a fact that esports are taken up by 95% of men and only 5% of women (1).
Here, the question arises, is it gamer culture that keeps women from getting serious about gaming? Or is it something else? Clearly, the number of women interested in video games isn’t that small, so why do only a few identify as serious gamers?
Challenges faced by women in esports
There are a number of reasons why women are underrepresented in esports. One of them is a lack of role models in esports that potential female gamers could look up to. Not only is there mostly male players, but there are also other fields of esports that are male-dominated. For example, management or members of esports associations. This is why women often don’t see a career in esports as an option in itself.
Another problem is fear of sexism, more specifically, women 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. However, under this problem lies a bigger one, such as gender-specific socialization or the transmission of stereotypical role patterns. Since forever, video games are seen as an activity with a more male connotation. This leads to the fact that it is often not even assumed at first that girls are interested in computer games or could develop those interests. This however is clearly not the case as shown by the statistics above. The mentioned stereotype also influences the gaming industry since it still does not perceive women as a target group, which can be seen for instance, from the design of the game content. A lot of female characters are designed very provocatively and are showing as much skin as possible, while with male characters this is never the case.
A big challenge for female gamers is also a big gap in earnings between genders. Among 500 highest overall earners in esports championships, only one woman earned a ranking spot. To make matters even worse, she doesn’t show up until rank 301. Additionally, the first ranked male
player “KuroKy” earned 4,1$ million by 2019, while the first ranked woman “Scarlett” earned “only” 296.000$ by 2019. The pay gap between the top male and female esports players is therefore significantly big. A very similar situation however, can also be found in traditional sports. Take football for example where the highest paid female footballer gets 400.000€ annually, while the highest paid mail footballer receives 130 million € per year. This is roughly 326 times more for the male player. Thus, the large pay gap is not a problem only in esports but also in traditional sports.
Are women-only esports tournaments a solution?
All in all, female players in esports are facing quite a few challenges in order to pursue their careers in the industry. One of the measures to make their job easier is an organisation of women-only tournaments. However, the opinions on this measure are very diverse.
Many are advocating that women should be able to game solely against other women since other traditional sports are also dividing the competitions between genders. Another view in favour of advocating women-only tournaments is that it has a positive economic benefit for the industry and that it may help closing the enormous pay divide. For instance, Wimbledon became one of the last major tennis tournaments to make the prize fund the same for both men and women. If esports follows the example, they can offer equal prize opportunities, which will help women earn just as much as male gamers. This will actively encourage women to become more involved in competitive play and offer them the exposure necessary to gain sponsors and get recognized by teams.
Source: Intel Extereme Masters
On the other hand, however, opposers suggest that the need to divide gamers by sex does not apply to gaming as in other sports which separate men and women because of biology. Therefore, gender segregation is not necessary for physical reasons nor is there any difference in gaming behaviour or performance between women and men.
At this point, esports definitely aren’t inclusive and the first step in creating equality for female gamers is recognising the issues. With this an equal battlefield and a thriving industry for both male and female gamers can be established. However, gender diversity should not be made mandatory for diversity’s sake but rather achieved by women reaching the highest of skill and by encouraging them to pursue their esports careers.
(1) A research made by PEW Research Center