The state of eSports: what challenges are women facing?

Topic: Gaming   |   8 February 2023

The state of eSports: what challenges are women facing?

Women in pro-gaming

The popularity of eSports moved past public indifference long ago, with high-profile eSports tournaments regularly making their way into global news coverage. Despite this, when we look at reporting around female professional gamers, we are often met with headlines like, “First Female Player”, “First Women’s Team”, and “First Women’s Tournament”. 

This, of course, hinges on the notion that the world of professional gaming for women is in its infancy, and that only now are female gamers breaking through – a notion which is simply untrue. Through our Annual Female Gamers Study, we dove into the barriers that are in place for women in professional gaming, tackling the reasons behind lack of representation for what is roughly 48% of the gaming population.

About eSports

First, it is important to look closely at the current state of eSports. An industry which has seen inarguable and rapid growth in recent years, the eSports market is valued at an eye-watering $1.38bn (£1.11bn) at the end of 2022 and is projected to increase into the rather astronomical value of $1.86bn (£1.5bn) by 2025. It’s little wonder then why figureheads of popular culture and multi-media giants are throwing their hats in the ring, with footballing icon David Beckham acquiring co-ownership of Guild ESports PLC in 2020, and Formula One running their own professional eSports programme since 2017, with their Virtual Grand Prix growing more popular each year.

However, as with any popular sport, professional gaming is not without its complications. An ongoing controversy in eSports is the lack of gender diversity, with approximately less than 5% of pro players participating in world championships being female. It’s not due to lack of interest: our survey results reveal that 36% of the 1,500 female gamer participants express interest in entering an eSports tournament (local or international). And while efforts have been made by pro leagues towards inclusivity, such as the announcement of a Women’s-only League of Legends Tournament, there are still concerns that this is side-stepping the issue of female underrepresentation. To address this, we must look at the root causes for the absence of women in eSports.

Barring women from participation

For an industry where participation does not discriminate by physicality, location, or status, the barriers to professional gaming do not so much concern female interest or ability. Instead, these issues revolve around a lack of resources allocated to women’s teams and leagues and, crucially, the harassment they face from fellow (predominantly male) gamers. 

Being part of a professional eSports association can be highly lucrative. eSports teams receive all the perks you would expect to see in a mainstream sport, such as high-profile sponsors and investors, professional coaching and training, a tantalising salary, and the prospect of winning big at major tourneys. Such facilities are not as readily available to female gamers, and their earnings alone reflect this. 

To illustrate this point, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, a Canadian Starcraft II player, is recognised as the highest-paid female pro gamer in the world with estimated overall earnings of $269,161 from her career. Now let’s compare this to Pierce “Gunless” Hillman, a Canadian Call of Duty WWII player, who has roughly earned $269,607 from his seven years in the industry. While their respective earnings are almost identical, Gunless is only the 869th highest-paid male eSports player. With 54% of female gamers agreeing that the eSports community doesn’t do enough to encourage and support women’s teams, it’s clear to see that investing one’s time and effort in a career within an industry that doesn’t offer equal recognition and rewards is a major obstacle in women’s eSports.

image2Of course, the barriers to entry for women extend beyond financing. Anyone who participates in competitive multiplayer gaming is familiar with receiving abuse online, whether that’s through verbal harassment, doxing, griefing, or hate speech. Sadly, toxic behaviour is often exacerbated when women play these games. According to our survey, 72% of female gamers have experienced some form of discrimination or abuse from male gamers, with 36% reporting that this is a regular occurrence. Female gamers are often subject to sexist and discriminatory comments, with some male players working to exclude women from gaming altogether and in some cases threatening women with violence or rape. One woman in our survey reported, “a player told me he’d find where I live and rape me because I couldn’t get to his dead body on time”. Between constant verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence, it’s clear to see why so many female gamers feel unable or unwilling to take part in competitive gaming, sometimes avoiding the medium altogether.

What can be done?

The very concept of eSports is alluring – to be able to gain a large following, make a career out of your passion, and become a master of your craft. Yet, the eSports community and the industry itself still uphold barriers by which women are discouraged from taking part, not incentivised to do so, or even commonly ostracised. Women tend to experience frequent abuse from fellow players, be underpaid and underappreciated, and simply not receive the same financial and public support as men. This is not to say that this cannot be achieved. To close out this article, we would like to list a few ways in which the industry and community can improve their inclusivity and work towards making female gamers more welcome:

  • Include more female players in pro teams
  • Ensure female pro teams are present in tournaments (local or international)
  • Increase coverage of women’s eSports in media outlets
  • Allocate the same resourcing to female eSports players that males receive
  • Report and flag any instance of discriminatory or hate speech in online games
  • Manage public community behaviour, whether it’s your friends or family or even yourself who participate in online harassment

Some of these changes are incremental, some on a wider scale, but everything on this list can be done. In what is a relatively new industry, it is important to ensure that eSports becomes more inclusive, more guarded, and simply more fun for everyone.

To find out more about toxicity in gaming, as well as current behaviours around eSports, visit our webpage and download a copy of our free report.

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