Women In Esports: Exploring Gender Inequality In Gaming

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Online gaming platforms were created for easy accessibility to trending games, gaming communities, and competition between gamers. It was made to be fun for everyone. But sadly, not everyone gets the same treatment on Esports platforms. In recent times, females have had to deal with toxic environments, harassment, and bullying on gaming platforms. This has caused a major gender disparity; female gamers have to resort to unconventional means to protect themselves. Even worse, some of them quit these gaming channels completely, and many more are discouraged from joining these platforms.

Let’s take a look at the gender inequality in Esports.

Gender Inequality in Esports: Facts and Stats in 2021

Esports has become a billion-dollar industry. It offers entertaining content that is streamed on major gaming platforms like Youtube and Twitch and turns casual gamers into superstars with seven-figure earnings and massive brand endorsements. It is a lucrative platform for gamers to have fun and monetize their gaming skills.

Competition has always been a large part of video game culture. Esports continues to produce that perfect mix of pleasure, competition, and fun by hosting a wide variety of action, sport, and adventure games. The game continues to bring a world of competition to at-home games like Fortnite, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, as viewers watch their favorite gamers play in real-time.

However, there is a gender disparity in Esports. Although it is a fast-growing industry, women are not adequately represented. While the eSports industry claims to be inclusive, the representation of women shows the opposite. There are more men than women on these gaming platforms. This can be attributed to a lot of reasons. For example, in one year, nearly half of all female gamers have experienced gender discrimination in a way than men. This situation is so bad that female gamers have disguised their identity, changed profiles to appear masculine or neutral, and avoided the microphone.

At a particular time, some people questioned the integrity of eFuse Women of the Erena Fortnite tournament because it was all female. The general public opinion towards female gamers is less than ideal; many suffer discrimination, bullying, toxicity, and many more. That’s not all; there also suffer many other disadvantages.

To further emphasize the gender difference between male and female gamers, we will categorize the difference by followers, earnings and reputation.

✔️ Earnings

Gamers earn millions of dollars on esport platforms. They make money by winning competitions, streaming their game feeds, betting on games, and hosting their private tournaments. But there is a problem; the men earn a lot more than the women. Among 500 overall earners, there is only one female eSports champion, Scarlett, who is making $294,124. However, the top earners in the male category are KuroKy and Notail, and Miracle, with KuroKy leading the list with $4.1 M., is a massive $3.7 million difference.

Below is a table showing the top ten earners in esports tournaments by gender.

Top Ten Female EarnersTop Ten Male Earners
 Earnings Earnings
Scarlett$296kKuroky$4.10M
Mystik$122kN0tail$3.74M
Ricki Ortiz$81kMiracle-$3.70M
Kasumi Chan$55kMinD_ContRoL$3.48M
Sarah Lou$50kMatumbaman$3.47M
Vilga$44kJerAx$3.30M
KittyPlays$39kSumaiL$3.29M
Ant1ka$34kGH$3.10M
zAAz$33kUNiVeRsE$3.00M
BaiZe$30kppd$2.90M

From the table and the graph above, we can see the huge difference between the earnings of the highest-paid male and female gamers. The worst part is when ranking the top earners irrespectively of their gender, Scarlett is ranked 301. If this figure doesn’t discourage inclusivity, then what else will. What’s more, some managers affirm that they only bring women on board for PR stunts and not primarily for their talents.

✔️ Followers

Male streamers have a lot more followers than their female counterparts. Typical examples are Ninja and Shroud, with 12.9 and 5.1 million followers respectively. This value significantly outranks the audience of the top twenty-five female Twitch streamers with Pokimane and KittyPlays topping the list with 2.7 and 1 million followers respectively.

The table below shows the most followed streamers on Twitch by gender.

Top Ten Female StreamersTop Ten Male Streamers
 Number of Followers Number of Followers
Ninja12.88MPokimane2.66M
Shroud5.11MKittyPlays1.03M
Tfue4.24MAriGameplays906K
Summit1g3.46MAmouranth837K
TimTheTatman3.23MSTPeach823K
dakotaz3.22MLoserfruit778K
TSM_Daequan3.21MOMGitsfruit778K
DrDisrespect3.02MAlinity754K
DrLupo2.88MKayPeaLol719K
Syndicate2.68MPink_Sparkles680K

From the data shown, we can see the wide difference between the followers of the male and female streamers. This clearly shows the bias the viewers have for the male streamers and that the idea of inclusivity is not widely accepted.

✔️ Reputations

Esports has established itself as an exciting gaming platform that viewers and players have come to love. Yet, we see what female gamers have to face to survive in the industry. They often have to deal with sexual comments, rape threats, death threats, and many other condescending attacks. A lot of them are also accused of cheating, undermining their skill and effort. A notable example is Alyssa. Alyssa, a Hearthstone pro player, cries out that she has been accused of cheating because she is a female in a men’s game, despite her consistent attitude to keep learning.

Gender Inequality Significant Facts

Statistics show that eSports enjoys decent patronage from male and female gamers alike. One will think that female gamers enjoy the same welcoming reception, but the opposite describes reality. Gender inequality forms the core of video gaming and even worse. Some of the notable facts about this situation are:

✔️ Low numbers in executive positions in the industry

Women are not adequately represented in leadership positions in the gaming industry. An analysis of the UK gaming workforce showed that  70% of the employees are male. Even when an aspiring female gets ahead and enters a leadership position, she would find herself in an industry solely dominated by men. Only 3% of females are in the executive level in the gaming community, with 29% in the mid-level and 18% in leadership positions, leaving the majority at the entry level.

✔️ What are women saying?

To further buttress the level of disparity in the gaming industry, some female streamers made some comments like, “One of the biggest challenges I face is not being taken seriously.” In many cases, they are thought to be incompetent in their job roles due to their gender- and nothing more.

Another female professional said this, “In the business world, a lot of us feel there is gender confusion. When women are given senior positions in a company, she is expected to act like a man. Many women tried this and failed woefully.” A favorable environment has to be created for women to thrive in the gaming industry.

✔️ Lack of role models

There are very few women in leadership roles; as a result, there are only a few role models for entry-level employees and gamers. This absence has influenced viewers’ bias about the game as gamers continue to discourage females from joining the game. If more females can choose a career path in this industry, it will change viewers’ perspective as more women will be inspired to join the revolution.

Reasons for the Gender Inequality in Esports

✔️ Negative stereotypes

Many females are undermined by their abilities because of their gender. They are perceived as inferior competitors. For instance, in 2016, a professional Overwatch gamer, SeYeon Kim, was widely accused of using an illegal program to enhance her ability. The viewers couldn’t believe that a teenage girl could play that well. Kim had to prove her innocence despite the threats she got. She masked herself in public and played the game again; this time, the viewers had applauded her before they knew it was her. Sad, right? But that’s what happens on esports platforms; about 26% of female gamers were accused of cheating or hacking.

✔️ Harassment and Toxicity

For as long as we can remember, women have constantly been subjected to misogynistic and sexist harassment in gaming. Women who spoke up against this treatment suffered the worst of it. They were targeted, threatened, and harassed. In fact, in a study, the researcher revealed that more female gamers received negative comments than their male counterparts. 

The Feminist Media Study suggests that cultural problems with the female gender are a significant propagator of gender disparity in the eSports industry. Video gaming is considered a violent and lazy hobby; hence when female gamers are seen in-game, they are regarded less. 

A survey shows that out of 100 video gamers across nine different countries, only 75 to 80 were male and 20 to 25, female. Many female players leave esports platforms and stop playing because they can’t deal with harassment and toxicity. This disparity explains why female streamers and gamers are the minority on esports platforms.

Here are some figures taken from a survey of 388 female gamers which demonstrate the different types of harassment.

✔️ Bullying

The video game community has a long way to go in the way it treats its female players. More often than not, female gamers are not accepted by both their male counterparts and the fans. This bias is what has spurred several instances of bullying and harassment. About 54% of female gamers- from a survey of 388 women- have been asked sexual favors. This and many more discourage women from esports platforms.

✔️ Women’s access to information and communications technology

The eSports industry heavily depends on ICT to thrive. However, in places like India and Global South, the digital gender divide is evident, contributing to the gender gap in the eSports community. Women might be unable to access technology due to socioeconomic and cultural factors; many women are disadvantaged. For communities like that, providing easy access to ICT can reduce gender inequality. 

Also, societal norms in these regions encourage men and allow them easy access to ICT while discouraging ICT for women. Because of these societal norms, one out of five women believes that technology is inappropriate.

Another problem is the language barrier. The language of the game content could be an issue for non-English gamers, discouraging their online games engagement. 

✔️ Gender pay gap

More often than not, female gamers are firstly rated by their gender before their skills. You hear things like, “it is because she is a girl.” Even after the lady in question may have sacrificed many things to be the best in the game. This disparity is not far-fetched as we see men in other industries taking all the credit simply because a woman is a woman. This inequality is evident in the way gamers are compensated, as the top 2 male players’ earnings cover 25 female players altogether.

Coping with Gender Inequality in Esports

The gender disparity witnessed by female gamers in the eSports industry is less than desirable. Female players have to resort to unconventional methods to keep themselves safe. Some of the ways female gamers are using to cope with this situation include:

Segregation as a Short-term Solution

The issue of gender disparity in esports can not continue to deprive women of a fun and enjoyable gaming experience on esports platforms and strip them of their dignity and efforts. To this end, women-only eSports have taken the initiative to foster gender inclusivity in esports. They have chosen to give women a platform to improve and explore their skills.

Notable examples are Valkyrie Challenge, StarLadder Female Stars Championship, and the GirlGamer esports festivals for women who play Counter Strike Global Offensive and League of Legends. Similarly, the Zowie Divina Female esports tournaments provide for women who play PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The idea is to segregate and develop a space for women only for a conducive and healthy environment for the players.

Another exciting development is the Women’s eSports League launch that assures women of a hate-free environment to play, socialize, and compete. It is an opportunity for passionate female gamers to demonstrate their talent and inspire other female novices to consider a career in competitive gaming.

Though this sounds important and may even be working, it begs the question as to why segregation was an option in the first place. The idea of segregation disagrees with the eSports industry’s claim that it is inclusive since women can associate or compete with males. The end goal is to create a field where men and women can play alongside. However, making this segregation is a short-term solution.

Getting Rid of Gender Inequality in Esports

What Can the Gaming Community Do to Treat Women Equally? As much as eSports has claimed to be inclusive, past experience of gamers says otherwise, hence it is vital that the industry finds better ways to cope with this situation. Some of our recommendations include:

✔️ Encourage women to pursue careers in the gaming industry

 Though professional gamers may have turned the viewers’ attention to themselves, the eSports industry can still offer other career paths to prove its inclusivity. Some of such career paths are commentators, event organizers, and game developers. Like Jorien van der Heijden, women have taken this step to be renowned game analysts, hosts, and interviewers in the eSport industry.

✔️ Attention from higher educational institutions

When women were asked about a remedy to the gender disparity in the eSport industry, most of them affirm that education is the solution. Education will give everyone an equal field to enter the industry, which will help the public to expect an equal mix of representation. It will also increase formal training that will dispel existing information in the ecosystem. For instance, Natacha Jones, president of the University of Manchester eSports society, wants to be an eSports event organizer. Josh Williams confirms that the number of women is few in his university –  National University Esports League. However, he is beginning to see increased numbers as more women associate themselves with the game.

✔️ Breaking stereotypical hurdles

Society is overwhelmed with patriarchy; this is a significant reason for the disparity witnessed in eSports. This means women must determine to choose to stay strong and rewrite the narrative with their abilities. In Jorien’s words, “I will encourage women to ignore the stereotypes and do what they want, even if it involves ruling in a male-dominated scene.”

Conclusion

The eSports industry is an exciting industry that should accommodate everyone – male or female. However, when we begin to see condescending attacks like rape and death threats, sexual harassment, and more, it becomes a problem, especially for female gamers. It is everyone’s job to make esports platforms safe for all gamers, irrespective of gender. Everyone should feel comfortable and enjoy a pleasurable gaming experience.