This Article was contributed by Matthew Carrico, Editorial Intern.
The field of esports continues to expand in a variety of areas and is quickly becoming one of the most profitable markets in the entertainment industry. From the competitive field to marketing to event planning and the collegiate scene, there are many opportunities for both gamers and non-gamers to find their place in this field. However, there is one underlying factor that plagues this market and that is it is mostly male-dominated.
This is not a new concept as it is well known that many career fields are still male-dominated but efforts have been made to bring changes and many positive impacts shine through as a result. Esports is no different than other fields in this regard as it also has its fair share of activists striving to bring about change and equality to this field.
This narrow-minded thinking can be seen as a form of toxicity in the esports industry which is one of its many problems. Toxicity is a major force that often drives interested people away from this field through various means including toxic masculinity but also through methods of racism, cyber-bullying, and outright exclusion. This mindset would often confuse people into thinking that esports would only be for a specific group of people when that is not the case. Proper conduct needs to be put in place so that everyone can have an equal opportunity to participate in the esports fields to see if it is to their liking.
There are many people and groups that look to bring about changes in the esports field in terms of the importance of diversity and inclusion. A recent article by Black Enterprise highlights two women of color and their dedication to bringing change.
Their names are Letta J and Keshia Walker. Letta J is the proprietor of the Soho Gaming House in New York City which acts as a safe space for women in esports. J is also the co-founder of Coexist Gaming which provides an inclusive space for everyone in the realms of gaming culture, entertainment, and esports.
Walker is the founder of the Women Got Game Summit, the Black Collegiate Gaming Association (BCGA) and a professional gaming champion. She has experienced her fair share of racism and marginalization throughout her gaming career and utilizes her organizations to provide opportunities for people facing similar issues. The Women Got Game Summit looked to introduce women college students of color to corporate leaders in the gaming/esports industry and was held back in March during Women’s History Month. The BCGA aims to bring opportunities to black and women of color students in the esports industry where they can nurture important skills such as leadership and potentially make full careers out of it.
Both J and Walker are looking to bring solutions and changes to this aspect of esports and truly make it an avenue for everyone to participate. Both J and Walker also bring to light how online hate speech in esports has only grown due to the popularity of online video streaming for games.
Esports makes it clear that gaming is no longer just a hobby but a business full of opportunities. The problem is that not everyone can take advantage of those opportunities if barriers such as toxicity remain in place to paint negative imagery of gaming in people’s minds. J makes it important to realize when such examples of negativity are affecting you, while Walker emphasizes the importance of standing your ground when you feel outmatched in certain situations. J and Walker have served as inspiration for other esports organizations in regards to toxicity.
The Shadow League, a sports journal, is a prominent example inspired by the Women Got Game Summit and highlights various statistics when it comes to diversity in esports. According to their data, “African Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 make up 67%-74% of recreational gaming, yet they only make up about 3% in actual esports leagues.” This shows how much work has to be done in order to show the true inclusivity that esports has to offer.
Tackling the problem of toxicity in esports may be difficult due to the lack of concrete data when quantifying diversity in esports. Variety highlights this problem in a 2019 article by pointing out the difference between two data sets of women gamers in the U.S. One data set by the Entertainment Software Association claims a percentage of 45% while data from Quantic Foundry label the percentage at only 18%. In short, lack of proper understanding is one factor in why esports diversity is not as lively as it should be and makes it difficult to develop long-lasting solutions.
It is clear that many groups are striving to find solutions for this level of toxicity. It can be established that video games are one of the most accessible entertainment mediums on the planet, and a potential solution would be to get this message out to everybody. It is important to be inclusive in these regards and while every gamer/person in esports is different, it is important to understand that it is not a place to emphasize superiority over others as this leads to many of the root problems.
To that end, the fight for diversity and inclusion in esports is still ongoing and will take the efforts/support of more people to level the playing field. J and Walker being prominent examples of this. Gaming is an experience for many players and the added diversity will only look to add to the thrill of those experiences. To that I ask, what solutions would you suggest to help combat toxicity in esports?