Women in Esports

By April 23, 2019 Author's Opinions

I have been working on this article for months. I started writing in January and planned to have it up the day after I started writing it. Events kept happening focused around the topic of Women in Esports/Gaming, so I kept pushing it off, wanting to add more and more to this. I then began to get testimonies from women that I knew and women I didn’t about their experiences while playing games. Every time I’ve come back to writing this I find more and more examples that back my argument about the harassment of women. This isn’t a joking issue, it’s serious, and things like this happen in every field of work. While you are reading this article, I challenge you to think about your own actions when it comes to gender in your workplace, in your school, and even in your hobbies, no matter what you identify as. I thank you for having an open mind, and reading my thoughts, and the stories around this subject.

Women in any type of media is a topic that has been debating for years and is a topic that will most likely continue to be a controversial topic for years to come.

The topic of women in esports has been on the rise since the outrage of the ‘female’ Overwatch player “Ellie.” Although the topic has been debated and debunked. The initial reaction to a female Overwatch player is a reaction that still needs to be discussed.

Reactions like this happen more often than not. Recently, the Twitter @WomenofEsports started a thread of tweets where women replied about their experiences of harassment in the gaming industry. The thread goes on for a while where multiple women, of all colors and sexualities, talk about their experiences in the gaming industry, either behind the keyboard or in the workplace.

Even before women experience being harassed online, they are already taking precautions when gaming. Many gamers create accounts with gender-neutral gamertags, or usernames that have no association with the female gender. Some streamers and other social influences choose to never show their face, and there have even been instances where women admit to using voice changers to deepen or distort their voice.

Between the twitter thread from Women of Esports and a recent debate of sexism in one of my collegiate classes, I began to wonder about all the times I had been harassed when the topic of gaming was brought up. I thought back to the dozens of times during grade school where boys would tell me girls weren’t allowed to play Call of Duty, or when I was told I was only allowed to watch Pokemon, and not play the trading card game. These experiences and my fear of not being taken seriously when gaming, led me to create a username that has nothing to do with gender and to rarely play with people I don’t know.

Because of this, in my time in college, I haven’t experienced any harassment when it comes to gaming. I’m surrounded by my friends who only play to have a good time.

But that doesn’t mean every woman has had the same experience as me. In fact, a majority have experienced quite the opposite.

I took to the growing community of women in the esports and gaming scene, and I asked them about their experiences.

Callie Simonton is a fellow member of the OU Esports Club and sits on our High Council with me as our Community Director. Before I got to know her, I knew that she was a streamer that broadcasted her Overwatch games as she played online. When I asked her about this topic, of the harassment of women in gaming, she said this: “Almost all the harassment I have faced has been online, some examples including degrading my gameplay because I am a woman to harassing me when I play with anyone else under the pretense that they are a SO or someone who wants to get into my pants. I stream for twitch and some harassment from that platform usually entails asking to see my boobs or making sexual jokes. Sometimes it’s “compliments” which just end up being lewd comments I do not want. I will often ask people to stop, but lately, since I get so much of it I usually end up ignoring the comments or muting the individual in question.

After hearing Callie’s experience, I wanted to continue asking other gamers about their thoughts. I took to the Women of Esports’ discord and asked a few of the members what their experiences were. These women chose to be anonymous, which in no way means their feelings and their experiences are invalid. Here are a few of their stories.

“At the start of Fall 2018, I was given the role of video captain in my school’s esports organization. I worked under the Production Director to manage video projects and help maintain branding and productivity. One of my best friends is the Graphics Captain, with the exact same job description and authority as me, except he handles the graphic design side of the team. After a couple of weeks of meetings with the team, it was very apparent that something wasn’t working. During our briefings at the beginning of every session, the team was attentive to the graphics captain, asking questions and paying attention to what their responsibilities were that day. However, when it was my turn, and I was presenting the projects for that day, students on the team began playing games on the computers in front of them, not paying mind to what I had to say. I first thought I didn’t project my voice enough, or that I didn’t seem confident while speaking to a group. After a month of this, I realized that it wasn’t something I could control. The graphics team always knew their projects and had them in on time. My team was falling behind because they never knew what they were working on and were almost always late with deadlines, even though I always provided the information when I presented, and even wrote it on a document that everyone had access to but never looked at. The breaking point came when the game team managers began asking the male members of the video team for projects instead of me, the person in charge of the very projects they wanted done. There even came a point where I was helping a student with a video, and a male member came up and cut me off, to say the exact thing I was previously saying. It brought me to tears. I felt so disrespected compared to my friend who had the exact same position as me, and just in general in the organization. I was loud enough. I was confident when I spoke. I was clear with my words and expectations. It was then that I understood that this is what being a female leader in a male-dominated industry is like.” 
“I talked about it with the production director and the graphics captain. They both originally denied it, claiming I was as respected as they were. I asked them to pay attention. I asked them to listen to me. And they did. Talking about it has helped me feel better, but I still struggle with feeling down about it from time to time. I’ve been able to bring on more girls to the team, which is a huge step up from the 2 (including me) we had last year. I’ve entered this year with a “no BS” attitude and am ready to take on the challenge.” 
“When I’m playing I typically receive comments in voice chat when they hear my voice like “hey, we’ve got a gamer girl” or other similar comments. Once, I had one guy spend the entire game trying to convince me to be his e-girlfriend on voicecoms. Otherwise, I have gotten criticized for my character choice because I typically play female characters like D.Va, Mercy, and Moira and people have assumed that I picked them solely because they were female and not because I liked their role or skillset. IRL- I was approached after an event where I had shoutcasted with a male counterpart and the event organizer came over to congratulate us but his comments to my partner were very perfunctory, basic, and professional, whereas when he talked to me, he went on at length about my performance with a tone of surprise. It was clear through his reaction that he had expected less from me from the beginning. Now I wouldn’t deem this harassment, but it was clear that he had certain expectations of girls in esports and was surprised when I didn’t fit.
As a response, I generally just stop talking in voicecoms for the game once I’ve gotten a negative response. I do consider my clothes when I’m going to be on camera to ensure that they have higher collars, but that’s mostly a professional thing for me”

I heard stories from handfuls of other girls who have experienced similar things. If you want to see it in action, I encourage you to watch Spawntaneous’ series ‘OMG a girl’ on YouTube, where she documents the insane things said to her over voice chat when playing Rainbox Six Siege. Even the comments sections of those videos are flooded with other girls relating to her situation. Fair warning that the content in the videos is vulgar and graphic.

Moral of the story, harassment of women is a huge issue. And for gamers, it runs from being a professional problem in the workplace to problem in the home while enjoying a hobby. It’s one of the biggest forms of sexism and harassment, and we shouldn’t have to deal with it.

Bailey Brown

Author Bailey Brown

Bailey is an advertising major, nonprofit studies minor in her third year at the University of Oklahoma. She was given her first gaming device at the age of 9 and hasn't put it down since. She enjoys the exploration and puzzle solving of The Legend of Zelda and claims she can "beat anyone" in Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers. Follow her on Twitter @MissBaileyKay

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