Role model: Where are the female gamers on the e-sports competitions?

Esports competitions for the first time will be held at the 2022 at Asian Games. Could this high-profile event change the industry for good and make it a better place for young female gamers to succeed and enjoy?

“The crownless are finally king!” is a phrase that makes my heart soar whenever I would think of it.

Those were the words of the commentators when Chinese gaming club Invictus Gaming (IG) defeated European Fnatic to win the League of Legends Global Finals in Incheon, South Korea, on November 3, three years ago.

It was that game that first made my parents, and millions like them, who only thought of gaming as a waste of time or a pastime, realise that there was something to be said for playing games.

The boys on the screen were weeping and celebrating their hard-earned win, and social media was full of well-wishes and fan frenzy. I felt the sense of pride, wondering “how great it would be to have a female player in that team.”

“It seems to me that very few girls look at playing games as a career, at least in China,” said Jessie Ma who used to work for NetEase, a famous game company in China. “Unlike guys, they can sometimes even sit in front of the computer and play games all afternoon.”

Jessie said that many of her female friends play games, but it’s a leisure activity after work and study, and they don’t spend a lot of time on it. “I don’t know why. But I considered it maybe because there are not many successful women one can see in this field.”

Missing role models might be one of the reasons that why women are underrepresented in sports, according to Natalie Denk, part of League of Girls, a company who support female gamers and promoting diversity in esport and gaming.

“Esport tournaments are generally open to women and men. Women do not see a career in esport as an option in itself. There is a lack of role models with whom women can identify,” said Natalie. “Role models show that a certain goal can be achieved and make something new desirable for us.”

The ratio of male to female e-sports users is relatively balanced, according to Enfodesk, a Chinese information service platform in “Comprehensive Analysis of China’s Live Gaming Market Development 2020”. The percentage of male users is 56.23%, while the percentage of female users is 43.77%.

But e-sports users are not the same as e-sports players. There are still very few female players in today’s major world-class competitions.

From “Queen of Terran”, Seo Ji-soo (as known as ToSsGirl) the former professional StarCraft player from South Korea to the 18-year-old Otomo Miyu, who once won the League of Legends event at the second national high school gaming tournament held in Japan and joined the professional team last year, although the numbers are small, there is still a steady stream of outstanding female professional players on the field.

As the percentage of women involved in the game increases, we are likely to see more female esports professional players on the scene in the future.

Making women visible in e-sport as role models is important but difficult.

A talented young player finally arrives on the field after fifteen or sixteen hours a day of training and layers of selection to become a professional player.

Winning and losing is normal in e-sports, or to say in ever sports, however, losing a match or making a mistake during a match can easily cause questions from viewers and fans alike.

A female player, her gender may bring her more questions and be more demanding than other male players.

Kim Se-yeon (as known as Geguri), the first female player in the history of the Overwatch League (OWL), once faced questions about whether she “cheated” in the game when she just started her career.

One of the more popular comments at the time was, “Because she’s a girl, she can’t possibly play that well.”

The question shifted from “does a professional player cheat” to “can a girl play at the top of her game”.

The suspicion of cheating was only cleared by Blizzard’s official findings and Geguri’s own testimony of her outstanding performance in live stream games.

A few keystrokes of the keyboard to post some costless remarks and a few light words could wipe out all the previous efforts of a professional player.

The racist tweets to the three black players who conceded penalties in England’s home final defeat to Italy this summer, after their dreams of the champion of UEFA Euros 2020 were shattered, is still fresh in our minds.

“To the majority of people coming together to call out the people sending these messages, by taking action and reporting these comments to the police and by driving out the hate by being kind to one another, we will win,” said Bukayo Saka.

Following this incident of racial discrimination, the Premier League has also announced new anti-discrimination rules that it hopes will protect players and combat racist behaviour on and off the field of play.

In response to insulting comments about athletes on the internet, Twitter UK said: “We can do better. We fully acknowledge our responsibility to ensure the service is safe – not just for the football community, but for all users.”

A multifaceted collaboration between the organisers of the relative match, the social media platforms and the users will be able to put this incident right quickly. This will also serve as a successful example and a wake-up call for other events to come.

In today’s e-sports, female professionals are as much a minority as the black players in the England national football team.

Their every word and action are scrutinised. And this attention is like a magnifying glass, magnifying every little mistake they make.

There is also the risk of facing accusations from crazed fans after a team falls behind or loses a match, like what the three athletes Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka had faced.

States have an obligation to ensure and promote a broader framework of substantive equality for women ang girls, according to United Nations Human Rights Council (2019) The Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Girls in Sport.

“Recognizes that sport regulations and practices which discriminate against women and girls on the basis of race, gender or any other ground of discrimination can lead to the exclusion of women and girls from competing as such on the basis of their physical and biological traits, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, racism, sexism and stigma, and infringe upon the dignity, privacy, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of women and girls.”

At the sixth summit of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2017, representatives of the IOC discussed the rapid growth of e-sports and agreed to consider it as a “sport”. It will also become an official sport at next year’s Asian Games, and could be entered into the future Summer Olympics.

There are still many unknown issues that may come to light in successive tournaments against what is still a developing gender-neutral sport. Thus, it might be gradually becoming a better place for young female players to succeed and enjoy themselves.