The struggle women face in professional gaming is more prevalent than ever. The Overwatch League has the chance to change this.
In the history of gaming, females haven’t been taken seriously as valid competitors. The atmosphere that male gamers create for women in the industry is not conducive to the inclusion of women in serious gaming competitions.
This has continued following the inauguration of the Overwatch League this year. Overwatch itself has been lauded as an inclusive game. There are currently fifteen male characters to choose from and eleven females.While this ratio still has room to be improved upon, it illustrates a general effort to appeal to female gamers. Tracer, the game’s mascot, has even been identified as queer. This is a huge step in the direction of gaming becoming a more progressive industry. Overwatch and Blizzard seem to be hoping to put themselves at the forefront of the movement towards more inclusive games. If this is the case, however, why has the Overwatch League opened with no professional female players?
One player specifically comes to mind when discussing female Overwatch players, Korean player Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon who played with the team ROX Orca. ROX Orca was one of the premier teams of the APEX Overwatch competition. Geguri has long been regarded as one of the best Zarya players in the industry. Her skill as a tank player rivals that of the top male players in the game.
Many teams cite a language barrier as a reason for not signing her, but the majority of the teams signed Korean players anyway. The New York Excelsior and London Spitfire are made up wholly of Korean speaking players.
If the female talent exists, why don’t any of the Overwatch League teams want to sign the first female player?
A major reason behind this is that teams likely fear that the public will see their signing of a female player as a PR Stunt. A gimmick to attract more attention and potential sponsorships to their team. This may cause a club to lose credibility in the eyes of league fans.
Kotaku reports that the manager of the Houston Outlaws, the Houston, Texas based Overwatch team said of potentially signing a female to his roster:
“You have to go through all these hurdles, like if you pick up a player, is the press gonna call it a PR stunt, or is it because she was the best?”
Putting this sort of publicity on one player would also likely be very hard on her. Any mistake made in the public eye would be seen as proof that a woman would only be signed for publicity rather than because she has any skill.
NRG thinks they have created a progressive roster
NRG has created a roster that they consider to be diverse and reflective of the demographics of the population that makes up San Francisco. The team is, of course, made up only of men. When asked if he invited any women to try out for the team, the chairman of NRG Nick Miller said: “I don’t think there was a woman player who was recommended to us or who contacted us who was ranked high enough or had the gaming experience to play for the team,” Mic.com reports.
Whether or not there are any women considered “good enough” to play for a professional team, a team made up only of males cannot be considered an accurate representation of any city or location.
No romance in the workplace
Some teams have also expressed fear of romantic relationships that may possibly develop between members of a mixed team, especially since co-habitation among teammates is popular. ESPN interviewed the previously mentioned Se-yeon who said of this issue:
“In Korea, it’s considered taboo for unmarried women and men to live together, which makes it hard for female gamers to move into team houses. This stigma applies in other countries too; North American coaches have expressed concerns that coed players might develop romantic ties.”
There are several issues with this viewpoint. The idea that men and women would not know how to behave professionally around each other is ludicrous. The players employed by the Overwatch League are not snot-nosed children with no self-control. They are professionals who should clearly understand the importance of maintaining professionalism among their team. If the players cannot do this, they do not deserve to be treated as professionals.
Additionally, if there is a fear of a relationship blossoming between two teammates, teams would also need to somehow ensure that none of the players on their roster are homosexual. And no, I am not condoning this practice, I am simply attempting to point out the outlandishness of the ‘romantic relationship’ argument.
Besides the issue that teams have with potentially signing a female player, we also must ask ourselves:
Do women even want to play?
Many times, they don’t.
Jake Lyons of the Houston Outlaws said of the aforementioned Geguri: “I know she’s had a lot of trouble. I’ve read a lot of articles about her having hard times, and that sucks. But that’s the hurdle. You have to get through all the shit and negativity you’re gonna read on Reddit or Inven or whatever.”
Female players face toxicity from male players in any video game that they play with others essentially every time that they make a mistake. In the gaming world, women are often seen as inferior to men in all respects. I personally even stopped using voice chat while playing online because I feared that any mistake I made would be followed by a slew of gender-based insults.
Women likely will continue to exclude themselves from professional gaming leagues since they are aware of the sheer volume of harassment that they would face in a professional setting.
What can be done?
In order to change the stigma surrounding potential professional female players, the Overwatch League needs to step up in a big way. While it may not be the right move for the league to implement rules regarding the inclusion of female players, the organization can certainly work to improve the way that they approach the problem. By positively encouraging females to be fans of and participate in Overwatch, the league may cut some of the stigma surrounding women in gaming.
The Houston Outlaws seem to have taken the first significant step towards the participation of women in the league. Ryan Musselman, the president of OpTic Gaming, the umbrella organization for the Outlaws, seems to have his eye on the idea of signing female players. He said of the issue:
“I think we’re going to see [female] professional gamers come into this space, and that’s really cool. What I’d like to see from us and from other teams is to figure out we foster and identify that talent. I know those professional players are out there, and I bet you anything that they’re going to be fierce,” reports Polygon.
According to Kotaku, the Outlaws DPS player “Jake” Lyons also has an opinion on the issue. “People would always be doubting, always be judging” He said. “So it has to be the right person, the right player, and those things have to come together at the right moment—which makes it especially hard for women in the scene right now.”
I cannot help but agree.
Hopefully more of the league leaders and executives develop a similar progressive attitude Additionally, if you are a dude, try to encourage your female friends in gaming rather than discourage them. It will really go a long way. If all of this happens, we undoubtedly see female participation in the league soon.