Image courtesy of Riot Games

College is supposed to be a chance to grow and develop into the person you want to eventually be. Likewise, collegiate esports should be the chance for the esports space to grow and develop into what we all want it to be. So, why does it seem like we’re making the same mistakes all over again? Where are the women in collegiate esports?

New Space, Same Problems

A recent study done by the Associated Press found that disappointingly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, almost 90% of all college esports scholarships were going to men. Men also held over 90% of all roster slots on college esports teams. Think about that. Only 1 in 10 college students who participate in esports identified as women.

Anyone familiar with professional esports won’t be too surprised to hear that. Female gamers have always been under-represented in what has been a male-dominated sport. All the way back to the early 90s, video games have been a primarily male hobby although it’s worth noting that were actually plenty of women in gaming in the ’70s and ’80s.

It’s no surprise then that the esports industry would reflect that mindset. And to be clear, the fact that it isn’t a surprise does not mean it isn’t a problem. In the modern era, playing video games is a gender-agnostic hobby and therefore the esports space should be reflecting that. It doesn’t.

Women in esports or the lack thereof

It’s a sad truth that if you look at the top 500 all-time earners in esports, only one woman is on the list. That’s reflective of two major issues. First, the hurdles women have to overcome to be able to compete. And secondly, the disproportionately low prize pools in women’s tournaments.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that women are just absent from esports altogether. There are many prominent women at pretty much every level of the esports space. But almost universally, these are in production and management roles. And far too often, there are no women holding the sticks and competing.

Esports is and has always been, a pretty toxic space. No esports athlete, whether a male competitor or female, will go without being the victim of toxic behavior at some point in their career. But you’re kidding yourself if you think women don’t have it worse.

I know too many women who choose not to use their microphones because they know what awaits them if they do. As a trans woman, I see the difference in the way people treat me if I use my feminine voice or my masculine. And it’s disgusting.

The journey towards competitive esports is born first out of a love for the game. Sadly, the toxic nature of online competitive games and the malice directed towards women tend to direct them towards other parts of the gaming community like RPGs and single-player titles.

This should be an opportunity for us to fix this

Varsity esports programs across colleges and universities should represent our chance to fix these problems though! This is where we should be able to normalize women in esports and in the game industry at large. Just like North America is looking to college as a viable path to pro, this should be how we truly cement women as a fixture of esports.

This is why it’s so unbelievably frustrating to see us making the same mistakes all over again. There is no biological reason that this sport should lean so heavily male. Which means the issue must be a sociological one. It highlights the importance of continuing to promote women in STEM fields and continuing to celebrate women playing esports at the varsity level and beyond.

So how do we fix this?

There is no blanket easy fix for this unless someone has a magic wand and can make people stop being jerks. In the absence of said sorcery, we need to look at a multi-pronged approach to solving the issue.

  • Developers – The onus begins with developers managing their communities. It should be no more acceptable to be toxic to a woman in-game than it would be in person. That mindset should be expanding to social media and other sections of the industry as well.
  • Pro-level tournaments – Tournament organizers need to put a focus on women in esports. Not to give them special treatment, but to make sure they’re receiving equal treatment. Women’s CS:GO Tournaments regularly lag behind the men’s tournaments in terms of investment, marketing, and prize pools. That needs to end.
  • Collegiate Esports – Ask a hundred different people and you’ll get a hundred different answers on how to better support women in esports. Some will say that men’s and women’s esports should remain separate, while others will say it’s important to integrate the two. I think the only reasonable approach is going to be to support both concepts for awhile. In ten years, we can stop and reassess.

These are the barebones starting point for fixing some of the problems in this industry. More research, more discourse, and more discussion need to happen surrounding women in the space. College esports should be our chance to get this right, so let’s stop screwing it up.

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Image courtesy of Riot Games