The gender split in gaming as an overall industry has been very close to 50/50 over the last few years in Australia. We know that thanks to the regular Digital Australia studies conducted by Bond University. But like the rest of the world, that’s not the case in esports. It’s male dominated and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
So people ask themselves: how do you get more women into the world of esports? And how do you encourage more women gamers to remain in the competitive scene? One major esports organisation tried to explore that conundrum recently — in the worst way possible.
The article was posted, and from all accounts hastily removed, on the website of Ukrainian-based organisation Natus Vincere (Na’Vi). Na’Vi has gotten flak for their presentation and approach to female esports in the past. Over two years ago they were criticised for the announcement of their first female Dota 2 squad, with the members being announced as “five beautiful girls” and nothing mentioned about their in-game roles or past results.
This is substantially more inflammatory than that, however. Titled “What is the future of women in esports,” the article begins with a graph from the study of the gender divide across various games, and then posits four possible reasons that could be restricting women from participating or advancing further in esports.
It starts out reasonable enough, criticising the effect of gender stereotypes and sexism amongst the community. But then things take a turn, with the author suggesting that women aren’t attuned to fully commit to the competitive lifestyle, women’s priorities make them inconsistent competitors and that they have a “heightened emotional response” that results in impulsive behaviour that prevents them from improving.
Here’s that last part, in full:
Even the most experienced cyber athletes at times go through the hard times of failure. Women, however, are crucially affected by poor choices they make and are prone to beating themselves up over them a lot more than men do. Their frustration can be expressed through impulsive behaviour and anger which hinders them from handling their mistakes well. Thus, women’s emotional vulnerability is considered to be one of the main problems which obstruct and delay their professional progress.
Never mind that the paragraph comes immediately after a photo of Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, one of the most successful foreigners in the history of StarCraft 2 regardless of gender.
The majority of the piece’s assertions weren’t supported by any strong evidence, surveys or supplementary information. So the swift and scathing criticism that Na’Vi were inundated with was understandable, and the organisation eventually pulled the article and issued an apology for its publication.
The apology did little to make amends.
The person or people in charge of Na’Vi’s Twitter account had the temerity to ask what was wrong with the initial apology, which inevitably fanned the flames further, and then replied by saying they would simply avoid covering gender disparity going forward.
As you’d expect, people have been jumping in for a free kick. Gosugamers pointed out four women who have been making strides as players and broadcasters; Australia’s own Kayla Squires commanded the esports spotlight late last year when she became the first woman to qualify for the Call of Duty World League in any region around the world.
Esports Observer put it simply by saying Na’Vi needed to take more care with its editorial and social media. “I’ll be the first to admit a casual use of “guys” when referring to a group of mixed-gender people, but to do so in an apology over an article that reinforces sexist stereotypes seems particularly dense,” Ferguson Mitchell wrote.
Esports has always struggled when it comes to promoting and encouraging competition amongst women. But one of its ongoing issues is the industry’s perennial failure to explain and communicate the value of such efforts — which extends from women-only competitions to the benefits of a larger, more diverse player base — to the community.
It’s not a difficult case to sell. Unfortunately, what happened was a pointless, demoralising discussion about outdated stereotypes. That’s the trap Na’Vi, one of the larger and more recognisable names in European esports, fell into. They waded into a topic they didn’t understand, the author lacked the finesse to approach the subject matter with any sensitivity or skill, and the end result is disappointing, infuriating and embarrassing all at once.