Views / Opinion

E-sports: Where women no longer have to be second-class athletes

In pro sports, women have always trailed men in fame and money. But competitive gaming, which is about to be a billion-dollar business, offers a shot at equality

Stephanie Harvey is a Canadian video-game developer, e-sports world champion, and diversity advocate.

Handout

Stephanie Harvey is a Canadian video-game developer, e-sports world champion, and diversity advocate.

The next big thing in sports and entertainment is competitive video-gaming. You might not realize it yet, but you soon will.

The biggest tournaments in “e-sports” — competitions involving games like League of Legends, Starcraft 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive — draw audiences comparable to those of major mainstream sporting events. The League of Legends’ 2014 Championship sold out Seoul’s 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium and attracted an online viewing audience larger than the TV audience for the final round of that year’s Masters. Market research firm Newzoo has reported that, by 2019, the e-sports industry’s worldwide revenue, which was $325 million in 2015, could surpass $1 billion — roughly what the NHL was generating in 1999.

Count on it: E-sports going to be making people rich and famous. And a lot those people should be women. Women, research shows, make up about half of non-pro gamers in North America, and women in a gaming context have none of the physical disadvantages that have kept them out of traditional, male-dominated professional sports. Competitive gaming should be the first big-time sport in which men and women share equally in the glory and spoils.

But there’s work to be done. Right now, sponsors, advertisers and other stakeholders in the e-sports business are not looking at women as a viable demographic, either as players or consumers.

A woman in esports is “a small fish in a very large pond — a fish in a shark tank,” said Laure Guilbert, a former manager for Team YP. Her role with the organization, which has teams competing in games like Street Fighter and League of Legends — and whose title sponsor is the porn website YouPorn — was to work behind the scenes to manage and market the team. She says the business side of the e-sports community needs to play catchup.

“There are not a lot of sponsors that putting forward women as professional gamers,” she said. “We can’t force tournaments to include them if there are no teams to be included.”

Stephanie Harvey is a Canadian and a five-time world champion in the popular team shooter Counter Strike: Global Offensive. She co-founded of misscliks, an advocacy organization to help support women in e-sports and geek culture. Harvey started playing CS:GO over a decade ago and has worked her way up the ranks from team mascot to world champion.

She said women need a thick skin to participate professionally in e-sports. While all players face some form of taunting or trash talk, she said, the abuse directed at women is different in that it’s often about looks and sexuality, rather than skill and gameplay.

“Women are targeted even if there is no reason for them to be targeted,” Harvey said. “For a man, he needs to have done something (in game) to be targeted. For women, just me being there, even if I wasn’t doing anything I would get harassed.

“Right now, we are still pitting women against each other. If you are successful, we are comparing you to the other successful woman. It's just toxic ... I want to lift each other up instead of pitting myself against other women."

But, she says, change will come slowly.

"It's a culture change, a generational change and it will take years for it to be fixed," she said.

I'm an avid gamer myself as well as a co-host on a weekly e-sports podcast called Scrub League. My personal favourite e-sport is Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm. I have had many a ranking marathon and encountered my fair share of trolls but I look forward to seeing, and being a part of, the progress and growth of this burgeoning scene.

This industry has already broken barriers and overcome stereotypes. It wasn't long ago that gamers were assumed to be white, male, heterosexual slackers who never stepped outside, were socially inept, and consumed a diet solely consisting of Doritos and Mountain Dew. Now gaming's most recognizable celebrities are much more diverse, and people of many different races, backgrounds and sexualities are represented.

People like the proud geeks of misscliks and intrepid gamer journalists at Girls on Games show that women, who have always had a part to play in the gaming community, will continue to fight for their rightful place in an industry whose monetary rewards and prestige are growing by leaps and bounds. We were there in the Dorito Dark Ages and we love to play and can play at the same level as men. Don’t believe me? Organize the co-ed tournaments and they will come.

Metro has an eSports podcast

Dive deeper into the game with Scrub League, Metro’s weekly eSports podcast. Click or tap here to listen.

More on Metronews.ca