A Lack Of Female Players At The Highest Level Of Gaming

Starcraft 2’s release on the 27th of July 2010 was when I first started to follow competitive gaming. Super Street Fighter 4 caught my attention later in the year. I went to local meetups and improved my skills as well. I also made new friendships. I spent a couple years playing competitively, traveling to tournaments, and watching players of the highest levels compete for thousands in twitch.tv. As part of the community I also started a Video Games Club for the University of Miami, where people could meet up and compete. I was surprised to see that despite the FGC’s pride in being a diverse community, there is a large male majority. This is due to the current political environment and the numerous women’s protests. This imbalance is also present in other gaming communities, including League of Legends, Dota and others. My question is: Why are women so underrepresented at the highest level of gaming, where skill and not gender is said to be the most important aspect of a player? Why are there so few women at the top of the gaming world, despite the fact that skill is more important than gender.

In order to answer this question, I searched one of the FIU database using the keywords female, esports and video games. The article I found in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues was entitled “Women’s Experience in esports : Gendered differences in peer and spectator feedback during competitive video game play”. This article has great value because it discusses directly the experiences of women during competitive gaming, which may explain why there are not enough females participating in eSports. Two studies were conducted by the researchers Omar Ruvalcaba and Jeffrey Shulze. In their first study, researchers studied gender differences between online gamers in terms of feedback they received from other players as well as spectators. The second analysis compared the gender of male and woman streamers, as well as their Twitch.tv comments. I was intrigued by the findings because they were contrary to my expectations. I assumed that women would receive more negative comments than men when playing online. However, in reality, more positive remarks were received. Twitch commenters made ten more sexual remarks to women than they did on other sites. This makes me think that the issue may be more complicated than I thought. The study could have been a lot richer if it had included live observations of events rather than strictly online gaming.

After reading the previous article, it was important to me that I see an example which focused on a person’s experience rather than a whole group. After searching for women who are high-profile in eSports I came across Kim Se Yeon, or Geguri, who is a player in the Overwatch League. Geguri: A (post)feminist esports icon is a chapter in the book Feminist Media Studies that details Geguri’s rise as a feminist gaming icon. This article also highlights how women who play esports don’t have the same opportunity to fail, and are instead “trained in supporting sexist structure and focusing on their flaws”. It is stated in the article that many women, including Geguri feel they have to abandon feminism to avoid the negative attention male gamers give them. The article gave me a better understanding of what harassment women may face in the world esports. I believe this contributes to women’s underrepresentation. Since esports and gaming are both under the same umbrella, there may be other issues in the gaming world.

The information I found in my search for a wider issue went against what I believed about gaming. I found out that although women are a significant portion of gamers, they don’t play the same games as men. Aleks Krotoski explains the point in his “Chicks and Joysticks – a Study of Women and Gaming”. This was published in ELSPA White Paper and reproduced as Male and Feminine roles article: “Males and Women both embrace Gaming Technology”. Krotoski examines women’s roles in computer games, as audiences and as contributors for the future of interactive media. This article will demonstrate that women are an increasing force in computer gaming, both behind the scenes and on the sales floor. Their inclusion ushers in a new era where games become a mass market phenomenon. Krotoski shows in her article that although boys dominated the game market in the 1980’s, there were companies like HerInteractive and Purple Moon Interactive who saw the potential in girls and created games for them. Krotoski explains that women are not as interested in sports simulations and shooters, but rather enjoy good plots, rich characters, and the ability to choose how to pursue their goals.

After reading this, I am slowly beginning to understand why women do not play competitive video games. It was because I didn’t think women played games that there wasn’t any representation. This article has proven that I was wrong. Women do play games, but not those that men prefer to play. There is no evidence that women do not play competitive video games. Krotoski’s article states that there exists a subculture that plays games like Counter-Strike and Quake, which is predominantly a “boys game”. Most female gamers have started to avoid these games and prefer games with a heavy plot, or games that are “casual”.

While I was researching, another article came to my attention that reinforced the idea that women are becoming more interested in gaming. This article was written by John C. Beck with Mitchell Wade. The title is “Video Games Transcend Gender Roles”. Beck describes an interview with college students and a survey the authors conducted. They received a complex set of data, which stated that men believed that women play less or never at all. Men were more likely than women to claim that they had played video games when they were teenagers, despite the fact nearly 40% of all gamers were women. The article I found interesting questioned if video games will be split between genders like traditional sports. The article says that video games are becoming a more common place for both genders. The article states that “brothers and sister will play videogames for hours together”. This is important to me because it shows how, even though there aren’t many female competitive gamers at the moment, this could change in the near future as more women become gamers. This article, I believe, also presents a different perspective from the article that stated women play different games to men. Here, it is stated that games have begun to blur the lines between genders and gender roles. This suggests that women and males are actually playing the same games.

I was interested in an event I’d heard about some months back. I found a lot of info about women’s experiences online, their professional gaming experience, and the games they play. The two final articles that I came across are closely related. The first, by Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castel, and published in The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, discusses how being feminist is often about “challenging persistent biological determinist attitudes that cast women and girl as less able when it came to both making and play games”. The second piece is by Megan Condis, a journalist from The New York Times. It is called “The Strange Saga of Female Gamer”, and it talks about that event I spoke of earlier. She writes about Ellie an Overwatcher who, out of the blue, became a powerful player on the Overwatch circuit and a recruit for Second Win’s Contender team. Ellie was immediately scrutinized for wanting to hide her true identity to avoid harassment, which is often experienced by other female professionals. The scene would not let Ellie be, and started harassing her. Ellie was forced to leave after the scene. Ellie turned out to be a fake person created by The Punisher – a professional male Overwatch player.

Ellie was asked to constantly prove herself in the article “Online Games, Gender and Feminism”. Ellie being a fictitious account doesn’t matter to me, as “she”, who was harassed by the other players before they realized she wasn’t real, was already harassed. This is an example of why women may be reluctant to enter the competitive gaming scene. Condis’ article gives me many examples that I can use to develop my thesis.

As I continued my research, I realized that there is a much deeper issue at play than I first thought. I read in some articles that women get harassed more than men, but they are also encouraged more. In addition, I found that developers are motivated by women to create games that do not have a strong competitive element and instead focus on the plot, characters, and characterization. For me to get an answer to this question, I would need to research the games that are made for women to play and what type of games they like to play. To better understand what women have experienced in the world of esports, I think I will need to look at more real life examples. But I think I have an answer for my question. I think a large part of the reason why there are so few female esports competitors is because esports, as a meritocracy scrutinizes women more closely than men due to their perception that they’re inferior. I believe women gravitate towards “casual” and mobile games, as opposed to the traditional video games marketed to men.