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Gender and Esports: The Long Road to Equality

As we as a society move beyond outdated gender stereotypes and generalizations, it has become clearer and clearer that the realm of esports could be an ideal industry for gender equality. Unlike more traditional sports and competitions, which use physiological differences to justify gender-based segregation, the world of gaming’s meritocracy is gender-neutral. Yet, in terms of earnings and representation, men still seem to dominate. With new data illustrating the ever-narrowing gap between genders in terms of esports interest and participation, it’s worth considering how the world of esports and gaming is slowly moving towards gender equality and what might be holding up the rate of progress.

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Games market insight website Newzoo, based on an online audience sample of 10-65 year olds, surmises that 46% of all gamers are female. While that number might seem surprising to some, it makes a lot of sense considering the increasingly mainstream appeal of the gaming industry. What might have seemed a niche market a couple of decades ago has broken free from the boxes the general populace might have delegated gaming to; the old assumptions regarding the age and gender of the typical gamer no longer apply. 

Considering that the goal for gaming and society as a whole ought to be to achieve true equality when it comes to gender representation and participation, the numbers illustrate some interesting ideas. In particular, Newzoo reports that while gamers are nearly even in terms of male and female demographics, male gamers are more likely to spend money on their gaming pursuits, in particular when it comes to PC gaming. Though there are likely many different factors in such a disparity, the fact that the gender-based wage gap is a major issue in the United States is sure to have an impact on those numbers.

In an interview for European Sportswear company Owayo’s magazine, Natalie Denk shares some fascinating insight into the current state of gender equality in esports. Denk is a German gamer and scientist. A co-founder of the “League of Girls—” a Viennese initiative devoted to boosting female representation in esports— she is also a research associate at the Center for Applied Game Research of the Donau University Krems. 

According to Denk, there are a number of reasons that women are underrepresented in esports, in particular missing role models, fear of sexism, gender-specific socialisation, and the industry’s failure to acknowledge females as a target demographic. She also offers some brilliant insight on how to address these issues. By working to showcase examples of female role models in esports and incorporate female players into esport associations beyond inclusion in gender-specific work groups, a number of these problems can be improved. 

However, some of her most important suggestions center on breaking down gender stereotypes and fostering gender competence in journalism. This means that news stories are written with potential female readership in mind. From choice of language to selection of images with regards to esports coverage, by journalists writing in a more inclusive or at least neutral manner, female readers would be more inclined to read about esports and subsequently participate. 

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Along with increasing representation, true gender parity in the industry can’t be achieved until other existing inequalities are dealt with. At the moment, there’s a huge gender-based pay gap in esports. An article titled “We Need ESPORTS for Everyone, Not a Separate Women’s ESPORTS League” presents the example of Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn. As the highest-earning female gamer in all of esports, she ranks 346th on a list of top esports earners around the world. 

Hostyn, considered one of the top players of Starcraft 2, has as of May 2018 career winnings of $271,559. As such, she holds the Guinness World Record for “Highest Career Earnings for a Competitive Videogame Player (Female).” Interestingly, all the other records for earnings of Competitive Videogame Players are separated by game and don’t have any gender designation. For instance, the holder of the “Highest-Earning Call of Duty Player (Career)” is Ian “Crimsix” Porter, with $810,909 in career earnings. The fact that the highest-paid female player has made less than half of what the highest-earning male player of Call of Duty alone—not even the highest earning of all time, or generally, but only for Call of Duty—is astounding. 

As Denk initially noted, by breaking down gender stereotypes as well as improving journalistic standards regarding gender in esports coverage, the industry can take note of these disparities and work towards fixing them. More and more women are playing and watching esports, and as esports continues to become more mainstream, that is only going to continue. If esports is going to live up to the ideals of equality that the industry’s inherently virtual nature makes possible, it’s important that moving forward, all those involved do the work required of them.

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