Women In E-sports – Fair Game?

E-Sports is booming! Since its birth, which can be traced as far back as a 1972 Space Invader Championship, competitive gaming has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Attracting sponsorship deals, investors, bookies, crowd filled stadiums, millions of online viewers and generation upon, soon to be, generation of e-sports superstars and fans.

In 2019 alone, over $200 million in prize money was awarded from professional e-sports tournaments. Denmark’s Johan Sundstein, Finland’s Jesse Vainikka and Australia’s Anathan Pham, plus many more, all pocketed millions playing Dota 2. America’s Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf played his way to over $3 million by winning the annual Fortnite tournament – that’s $3 million from a single tournament! – more than Lewis Hamilton was paid, per race, in Formula 1. Playing a Fortnite Tournament is a safer bet, and possibly more fun depending on what side of the track you’re on.

Check the list of the Top 100 earners from 2019 though and it shows a completely male dominated industry. Nearly all of the Top 100 earning in excess of $1 million. Only the last 4 starting with Hayden “Elevate” Krueger also on Fortnite, sat at 96th, pocketed slightly less but nowhere in the Top 100 are any women to be found.

Various Fortnite Stat Tracker websites give you an inkling of who the best players are to watch and learn from – (via Twitch streams), allowing you to “stand on the shoulders of giants” as you evolve from a “n00b” into a good player. If you are streaming yourself, then you can get some tips from your viewers too. Some may even say that women have a better jump-start once they start streaming on platforms like Twitch, but how are they doing once they start competing in major tournaments?

Where are the Girls?

The highest paid earner for the ladies, Canada’s Sasha Hostyn, scooped just shy of $400,000. Fourth place onwards in the women’s rankings didn’t break $100,000 even though it is estimated 30% of Esports viewership and 35% of E-sports gamers are women. In Germany alone nearly half of gamers are female, considering the number and the popularity, why the gap in success?

Twitch – the number 1 live streaming platform for gamers – draws nearly 1.5 million viewers at any one time. Broadcasting major tournaments whilst fans cheer on their favorite teams or players, some broadcasters have become celebrities in their own right with millions of followers and again, its suggested, 35% of the platform share is female. Celebrities from outside the gaming communities have been seen on Twitch – Musicians Travis and Drake played alongside broadcaster Ninja which demonstrates the expanse and popularity of Twitch.
Most sports split women from men due to physiological differences. E-sports is unlike others – you don’t have to be strong, of a certain physique or gain some advantage through height or size difference. E-sports is based around quickest on the trigger and speed of the mind, knowledge, instinct and hand to eye co-ordination. So, why are there not 30, 40 or 50 women in the top rankings? In this brave new world of online gaming, on a level playing field for both sexes, where are the girls?

Boys VS Girls – What’s the difference?

Whilst there is a large percentage of girl gamers now, only in recent years has there been this much interest. As an 80’s child us boys played Atari whilst the girls still played……well, whatever girls played in the 80’s. I don’t recall many girl gamers until the late 90’s/early noughties but rarely any ladies playing Counter-Strike and only now do I see girls fighting to take turns with their peers.

In this digital age sisters teach their younger brothers and stereotypes have been broken, lifestyles have changed and although there may still be cultural hindrance in some countries these rising female stars of are starting to make their mark. This generation of female gamers and the next could break that Top100 and dominate given time.
There is some controversy around female only teams and tournaments. Currently mixed teams are not as popular as all female and there seems to be a divide already in the evolution of Esports. Whilst female only tournaments encourage female participation is this really necessary in a sport played online with avatars and nicknames? Does keeping the talent pool separate hinder the development of not just the women in Esports but the maturing of talent as a whole? To be the best you have to beat the best, right?

Esports & Poker – The Comparison

Not many sports can boast a fair game for both sexes. Similarities can be drawn between Esports and Poker – again, natural differences between sexes don’t come into play. There is a similar percentage of women online in poker rooms and plenty now that enjoy both. But let’s look at Poker and the development of female talent within.
Poker, traditionally a boy’s club game, has been including ladies since 1977 with a World Series of Poker event – Instrumental in the rise of women in Poker but could it be, by separating women’s tournaments from men’s, have they inadvertently hindered the development of talent, for both woman and man, by segregating the playing fields?
Only in 1995 did Barbara Enright become the first women to reach a World Series Of Poker finals, finishing in 5th place – nearly 20 years after the inclusion of ladies. She became the first women to be inducted into the WSOP Hall Of Fame and the first to win 3 WSOP bracelets but could it have happened before with a different setup?

Recently Canadian Poker Pro Kristen Bicknell became the first woman to win a poker masters title in 2019. There are women in the Top 100 Global Poker Index, plenty winning major tournaments but we are now 30 years down the line in the history of female participation. For anybody to truly compete and close a gap they need to be given a fair chance to do so. Did Beth Harmon from The Queen’s Gambit become one of the greatest chess players by joining an all-female chess club? Ok, so the wonderful Beth is fictitious but you see my point.

New Age Sport – Old School Thinking?

Keeping the annual Fortnite competition open to all encourages equality and develops talent. Holding a Men’s Annual Fortnite and Ladies Annual Fortnite competition would only keep them apart and hinder both sexes development. The industry needs to drive and maintain a universal approach, if that’s what it desires, or we could see controversy on the horizon due to segregation and potential difference in earnings and opportunity.
The question is really if a modern phenomenon like Esports fits an old school mold of a male and female divide? I cannot think of a logical reason for doing so. Could the E-sports community learn from the history and progress of women in Poker?

Maybe it is time for a new approach in this new age.