The global phenomenon of esports—and the sexism that comes with it
Esports athletes may not look like your typical sports star, but they too train for hours, join teams and compete—often for top dollar.
“Over the years, the picture of the average gamer gets more and more solid,” said Kevin Rudolf, PhD, a research associate at the German Sport University Cologne. He has been involved in esports research since the University started doing so in 2014.
“We can say that while the average gamer is 50% male and 50% female, the average esport athletes—those who compete in tournaments and leagues and involved in competition—it's a little bit different from that average gamer in our studies. We saw that a big part of the respondents are male, like 90% of the esport athletes are male,” said Rudolf.
While this observation may lead one to think males may just be more into the competitive side of the industry, Rudolf said during a recent NutraCast episode that it could be that females are often ostracized.
“We get our data from esport tournaments and from the esport communities and one idea why we get so many male players or male respondents in our study is that maybe, just maybe, the female players are not involved in the communities that much so they don't know that our questionnaires are out there. And so maybe there are some more female esport players out there, but they didn't get involved in our studies," said Rudolf.
According to Statista, women accounted for 41% of all gamers in the United States in 2020, a slight decrease from the previous year.
The dark side of gaming culture
Rudolf added that the males in the esports community aren’t exactly eager to give females a seat at the tournament table.
“I think it's kind of a problem in the esports scene that it's very dominated by males. So when young girls or young women get into the games and start playing, they really have to battle some stereotypes. So it's not the friendliest environment to start in and so maybe the gamers themselves need to change a little to be more welcoming for the girls to get in the games.”
Some may recall gamergate, a controversial movement from 2014 aimed at pushing out female gamers. The online harassment campaign targeted several women in the video game industry and used the hashtag #GamerGate to further sexism and anti-progressivism in video game culture.
While the movement is behind us, many in the industry are still trying to repair the damage by searching for better community management techniques to prevent harassment.
A 2020 esports survey from law firm Foley & Lardner and The Esports Observer spoke with 255 esports players and executives from the US (56%) and Europe (24%).
One question in the survey asked, “Which of the following actions do you view as important to increasing the representation—and equitable treatment—of women in esports?”
Respondents said organizations need to provide greater visibility and leadership roles for female gamers (67%), take appropriate disciplinary action against those who engage in misconduct (63%), brands/sponsors should push for more gender diversity on teams (58%), and esports companies must create and update policies on employee conduct and anti-harassment (50%).
Let her speak
While the survey is one effort to give women a seat at the gaming table, it doesn’t necessarily give them a voice.
“So, I think these recommendations are a good starting place, but it doesn’t allow for those already participating to have an active voice,” said Dr. Susan Kleiner, a PhD nutritionist who advises high profile female athletes. “I recommend that they begin an online survey of the women and girls already participating, and see what they have to say. Ask them why they play? What obstacles do they face? What do they hear from other women and girls in esports?”
Esports raked in $1 billion in 2020 and industry insiders assert that that inclusivity toward women will be key to its continued success.
To hear more on this topic, tune in to NutraIngredients-USA’s upcoming Sports and Active Nutrition webinar on Thursday, February 25th, which will focus on white spaces in the industry, including females and e-sports.
To register for the event, see below.