The Internet (us included) was in an uproar recently over a men-only Hearthstone tournament. Such an uproar, in fact, that the International eSports Federation reversed its policy of separating competitions by gender, but competitions specifically for women remained. Diversity in games and eSports are tough issues to navigate, and some may not understand why tournaments for women are OK but ones for men aren’t.
Basically, this new policy takes a page from chess rules in that the women’s tournaments are there to foster the development of the female demographic in a sport filled with men. Unlike physical sports, mental games like chess or eSports don’t have to concern themselves with physical differences between competitors that might prevent women from competing alongside men on a professional level. So, there’s no reason to keep women out of the main competitions.
As MindSports International development manager and chess coach Eduardo Sajgalik told Polygon, “Fundamentally, chess is a rating based game. There’s no is proven basis of skill or ability that justifies having a female only competition compared to splitting people by rating.” So, chess competitions are open to everyone with extra events for women.
But if women can compete in the main competitions, why have tournaments that are women-only? Isn’t that a double standard? Well, yes, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Cultivating diversity in gender-agnostic gaming competitions can be tough for many factors related to the communities surrounding them.
As Matt Weber of eSports’ Team Liquid explained:
[I]t’s hard for up-and-coming women to get practice and have people train with them seriously — just as its difficult for women eSports reporters or organizers or streamers to have fans/pros take them seriously for their career.
Women-only events help this slightly by both removing some of those barriers and fostering a community for an under-represented group to help find their place in the scene and establish a sense of togetherness for the people that fall into that group.
There is a definite segment of our website who identify as women but don’t feel comfortable sharing that information because of the weird attention it grants them, our world is unfortunately not as friendly to non-white middle-class males as it should be given what century we’re in.
So, separate female leagues create a safer, more inviting entry point for women to get into eSports, which is what makes the double standard acceptable: men aren’t in need of a more comfortable way to get involved. Gaming and eSports are still very much male-dominated communities, and they’re not subject to gender-based discrimination in the first place.
However, if competitions were fully gender-segregated, the division wouldn’t help the female demographic in the main competitions grow, which is the point of the women’s divisions in the first place. That’s why no one was asking the Hearthstone competition to do away with all gender division. Complete lack of outreach to a smaller demographic wouldn’t help anyone. The problem was the exclusion of women from the main event, which only makes the diversity problem worse.
Luckily, the decision was reversed, and the IeSF decided to reverse its policy of complete gender separation while retaining events specifically for women. If all of the reasons this is a good decision were already apparent to you, then that’s great. Go forth and spread the word to those who would cry, “Double standard!” It’s not special treatment; it’s a way to move toward the eventual goal of equality.
Hearthstone developer Blizzard has come under fire for a lack of diversity in the worlds of its games, as well, but Blizzard Cofounder and president Mike Morhaime promised that the company will work to overcome those problems. In a response to an open letter from a dissatisfied gamer who turned down an invitation to try a new Hearthstone expansion, Morhaime wrote:
We are very conscious of the issues you raise and are discussing them more than ever, at every level of the company, in an effort to make sure our games and stories are as epic and inclusive as possible. Blizzard’s employees form a broad and diverse group that cares deeply about the experiences we are creating for our players. And we know that actions speak louder than words, so we are challenging ourselves to draw from more diverse voices within and outside of the company and create more diverse heroes and content. We are also actively looking at our story development and other processes to ensure that our values are fully represented. We’ve always believed that positive, lasting change comes from examination, discussion, and iteration, and this applies as much to story as to gameplay. There is no reason why inclusivity should come at the expense of an amazing game experience.
It’s always great to hear that game companies and eSports are taking an active interest in doing what’s best for the diversity and growth of their communities, and I hope Blizzard sticks to this in the future.
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