Authors: TJ Nichols, Lucas Martin

A growing esports industry takes after traditional marketing and promotional strategies used in established sports forums. What can we do to fight the systemic issue of gender discrepancy in esports? We created a speculative social media campaign titled #NoWomanLagBehind to show one of the possible efforts that could be made in addressing this question.

Introduction

On average, do elite male athletes perform better than elite female athletes? According to research the answer to that question is yes. And it makes sense right? Male androgenized bodies can grow larger and stronger than female bodies (Coleman, 2019). In the context of the sport being a physical competition, it makes sense that males can peak higher due to human physiology.

Do elite male esport athletes perform better than elite female esport athletes? The research here is scarce, but I think it’s safe to say that males don’t have a physiological advantage against women on reaction time, and further, moving a mouse and keyboard according to visual and audio input coming from a screen.

In the NBA, we see the male and female divisions split into two separate organizing bodies, the NBA and the WNBA. This makes sense given the physiological gap in male and female physical performance. So — how come male and female groups are similarly split in competition in the space of competitive esports? Are there fewer females who participate in competitive esports as a result of this division? Why would there be less females who participate in competitive esports? These are some critical questions that we seek to analyze and intervene on through our critical making project.

Justin Hilbert of the Sports Integrity Initiative finds that “Pro gaming is dominated by males”, where close to 95% of roster positions in pro esports teams are composed of males, regardless of the esport (Hilbert, 2019). This statistic is alarming, and there are many factors that create disparity.

First, esports have long been marketed to male audiences. As a result, more males know about said esports and more males play them. Since more men play said video games, they notice a lower proportion of females in this space and internalize the idea that women don’t play BECAUSE they are not innately skilled at given games. PEW Research Center finds that even though an estimated 60% of female respondents reported that they play video games, only a measly 5% label themselves as “gamers” (Brown, 2017) . The issue here is a cycle that perpetuates this “gamer” culture. The “gamer” label holds many masculine traits, which makes sense given that the “gamer community” is more than 95% male. Fewer female influencers within esports contribute to a positive feedback loop of harassment of females, and subsequently, turns females away from competing professionally. It’s a cycle, and the more we let it happen, the more it continues to work to drive women away from competitive esports.

Next, let’s acknowledge that the “gamer” community and culture of esports is built on the foundation of beliefs held by its first inhabitants, white males. Because of this, female voices haven’t had an equal share of representation both in media and industry positions in what was already a male-populated space (esports). The legacy of this materializes in online harassment of marginalized voices. The voices and legitimacy of women, especially those of the LGBTQ+ community, are minimized in toxic online environments today. A study done by the ADL’s Center on Technology and Society reveals that almost 40% of women surveyed said that they were harassed on the basis of their gender. Cyberharassment is a difficult issue to tackle by itself. The link between cyberbullying and internet anonymity has been confirmed as showing a positive relationship (Barlett, 2015). Video game studios that create highly competitive esports have tried to limit harassment by neutralizing means of communication. In Riot’s League of Legends (LoL), a public voice chat channel doesn’t exist for members playing on a game, different from their shooter title, Valorant, where I personally witness harassment not more than hours ago in a public matchmaking lobby through voice chat. In LoL, teammates communicate through text and through ping markers. This reduces the capacity for harassment, as I would argue that voice chat facilitates the harshest forms of cyber harassment. Likewise, Microsoft and Xbox offer their consumers a ticketing system in which players can report other uses for inappropriate and toxic behaviors.

This is an important issue to fight. At the micro level, esports is an exploding industry and with its continued rise in popularity. Addressing the issue of gender equality and widespread female harassment is a conversation that needs to be had in the status quo, not in ex post facto. At the macro level, the fight to improve female inclusion within the esports space is yet another battleground upon which gender equality wages its war against digital cis/white/male hegemony.

#NoWomanLagBehind

#NoWomanLagBehind represents a media palette of digital artwork and news content. Digital artwork is the centerpiece of the media, by which infographics promote useful step-by-step instructions to de-escalate hostile environments in game lobbies. Some are designed to promote fictional resources in a speculative podcast and webinar. Additionally, much of our artwork promotes our brand, which lives on our website and within social media presences in Twitter and Instagram. The infographics serve the “action” faculty of our intervention, while the website and branding reflect the “awareness” faculty of the intervention. The infographics suggest potential tactics to take in dissapating this harrassment, serving as an action. The website as a whole serves as an educational platform for visitors to learn from, serving as raising awareness. Again the project is situated within the scope of being a speculative social media campaign, one that could grow with sponsorship and funding. That being said, we still believe that our intervention can serve to affect real, albeit marginal, changes in the esports industry. #NoWomanLagBehind has the potential to raise real awareness in the online community, namely people who engage in social media.

Related Efforts

The first related effort we discovered was the British Esports Association, which launched in late 2019. The main goal of the BEA is to raise awareness and improve inclusivity through celebrating females within the esports industry. They achieve this through partnerships with other organizations that create social media campaigns utilizing YouTube, Twitch, and more, mainly through interviews. These interviews provide advice and education about discrimination, including casters, professional players, and productions specialists in this space.

The next related effort we found is Women of Esports (WoE). WoE’s focus is on empowerment, and they achieve this through their mentorship program with a global community of over 450 members. They provide news that empowers women in esports, but their main reach is through mentorship programs that match industry leaders with women who are looking to get into the esports industry.

Another related effort is Women in Games, an organization who has partnered with many other organizations in the esports field to promote women participation. Some examples include, teaming up with esports teams to offer scholarships for future gaming industry leaders, teaming up with gaming societies to hold diversity conferences, or providing resources that teach women and LGBTQ+ players how to manage esports teams. They have been doing this since 2016 with an ultimate goal to create online communities free of gender discrimination.

The next related effort is FemaleLegends, a Swedish, non-profit working to promote women and non-binary persons participation in the gaming community. They organize tournaments, provide coaching, hold gaming nights or LAN parties, and organize camps that hold workshops for young women. They achieve their goals through fun events where women and non-binary individuals can participate in free of discrimination to form better perspectives of this industry.

Lastly, AnyKey is another related effort, that teaches how to build diverse and inclusive gaming groups. They teach gamers and organizers to develop skills in media representation, bystander intervention, and allyship. Their three main goals are to amplify, connect, and empower underrepresented players through research and strategic initiatives. They achieve this through online instructional materials and tools that are publicly accessible.

All of these related efforts have very similar goals to us and utilize similar tactics to achieve this. Many of them provide events and online resources that raise awareness for the ongoing discrimination in underrepresented groups, which we aim to provide as well. We hope to build off of these resources and to provide some that we did not see included, such as our suggestion of a bi-weekly podcast and highlighting a team and streamer of the month. We also did not see much merchandise on these websites and wished to include a variety of our own. Our suggestion of a merchandise shop would help raise funds for anti-discrimination efforts and serve as a way for individuals to show off visually appealing items as an empowerment effort. Although much of our tactics are similar to ones already in practice that can be viewed as supplemental, we also wanted to provide some unique ideas that would support the overall goals of many of these current organizations.

Our Work

Resource graphics:

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Graphics used on the resources section of our website.

Infographic for steps to take to combat harassment in online communities:

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Infographic used on the home page to show suggested steps to take to combat online harassment.

Merchandise graphics:

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Images used for the merchandise section of our website.

Process

We both have limited experience in graphic design, so we wanted to utilize our current skills in this area to challenge ourselves to create something visually appealing. The thought of having something interactive and navigable was also appealing to us, so we hoped to create something that would fall in line with this. Marketing and social media is also an area we both have some experience and interest in, so that is where the idea of a speculative social media or marketing campaign came from. Looking at all of our past experiences and areas of interest we decided to create a website that would serve as a platform for empowerment and awareness of underrepresented groups in this space. In doing this, we hoped to challenge ourselves to develop our skills even further than they currently were to form something we could look back on as a learning experience and be proud of.

We began our creative process with a large amount of brainstorming. We looked at resources currently on the internet to see what the most effective tactics would be in spreading our message. We wanted to make sure we provided supplemental resources to things currently in practice, but also wished to provide some that were unique. We looked at similar organizations to see what they were doing well, but also in what they could potentially improve on. The creation of social media accounts for our campaign was a must, so we utilized Instagram and Twitter, making sure to put appropriate content on there relating to our website. Once we decided on what our content would be, we started creating our graphics that would be on our website. We took time to discuss what our design approaches would be so we could make a website that flowed well and was visually appealing. After creating our graphics, we typed up content that would supplement our graphics and our message. Once we had this, we started implementing everything into our website. Creating the website was definitely a learning process, with much trial and error occurring to make sure it looked the best it could. After we had everything we wished to include on the website, we took some time to brainstorm and update the site with our final touches.

Conclusion

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This project came out of the course COM 367 Multimedia Production & Digital Culture at North Carolina State University in fall 2020, taught by Dr. Noura Howell. More posts from our class:

Gender Gap in Pro Sports: Jonathan Hudson and Tommy Delaunay

Toxic Task Force: Madison Neeley, Ashley Mullins and Alex Koonce

Candid Curly Collaborative: Marissa McHugh & Sandra Garcia

Sexism in Television: Madison Mallory, Chloe Campbell, Jenaye Gaudreau, & Greer Gorra

#NoWomanLagBehind: TJ Nichols & Lucas Martin

Misprint: Aaron Kling

References

Bogliari, A. (2020, November 2). The Incredible Growth of eSports [+ eSports Statistics]. Influencer Marketing Hub. https://influencermarketinghub.com/growth-of-esports-stats/

Brown, A. (2017, September 11). Younger men play video games, but so do a diverse group of other Americans. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/11/younger-men-play-video-games-but-so-do-a-diverse-group-of-other-americans/

Coleman, D. L., & Shreve, W. (n.d.). Comparing Athletic PerformancesThe Best Elite Women to Boys and Men. DukeLaw. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://web.law.duke.edu/sports/sex-sport/comparative-athletic-performance/

Hilbert, J. (2019, April 9). Gaming & gender: how inclusive are eSports? Sports Integrity Initiative. https://www.sportsintegrityinitiative.com/gaming-gender-how-inclusive-are-esports/#:%7E:text=According%20to%20the%20PEW%20Research,players%20identify%20as%20’Gamers’.&text=Pro%20gaming%20is%20dominated%20by,traditionally%20been%20a%20Boys’%20Club

League of Legends. (2015, October 13). What is League of Legends? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGtROJeMPeE

Mills, C. (2020, April 14). Women in Esports committee pushes for further inclusivity. Esports Insider. https://esportsinsider.com/2020/04/women-esports-inclusivity/

Smith, D. (2019, July 25). Most people who play video games online experience “severe” harassment, new study finds. Business Insider Nederland. https://www.businessinsider.nl/online-harassment-in-video-games-statistics-adl-study-2019-7?international=true&r=US

Takahashi, D. (2020, February 28). Newzoo: Global esports will top $1 billion in 2020, with China as the top market. VentureBeat. https://venturebeat.com/2020/02/25/newzoo-global-esports-will-top-1-billion-in-2020-with-china-as-the-top-market/

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