Initially envisioned in the early 1950s, the development of the earliest home video game consoles in the ‘80s propelled video gaming into homes across the world. Today, the world of gaming has exploded into a full-blown competitive sport.
eSports has typically been a male-dominated sport, but as it has grown more and more people of all genders and ethnic backgrounds have entered the arena. Let’s take a look at the state of inclusivity in the world of eSports today, including changes on the horizon that will help to reshape and improve gamer demographics opening up the world of Esports to a larger array of players.
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The Evolution of eSports from Gaming
Let’s take a quick moment to look at where the competitive gaming trend started and how it has evolved into the eSports community that exists today. Believe it or not, the history of eSports actually begins all the way back in 1952 with the development of the first multi-player table tennis video game that allowed two players to compete against each other by controlling the “ball” using a rudimentary joystick.
Fast forward several decades to today, and you would hardly recognize the full-blown tournament sport that eSports has become. Today, eSports players and teams are recruited and sponsored by large corporations with deep pockets, and competitive gaming match-up events take place both online and in large live events similar to live play professional sports events.
Male Dominance in the Gaming World
The world of gaming and eSports has clearly come a long way since its earliest inception; however, some areas, namely gender roles and gender representation in video games, have remained mired in outdated thinking.
A number of factors continue to reinforce these outdated ideas, from traditional societal views of technology and gaming as the domain of males to the hypersexualization of female characters in video games designed by men for men.
A strong stereotype exists that says that males are better suited for roles in the technological fields and that men are the main players and consumers of games and gaming merchandise. However, studies have shown that the demographic of players and consumers of video games today does not support this belief. In fact, recent studies have shown that approximately 40% of PC game players are female.
Does Anonymity in Gaming Promote Toxicity?
In addition to the baked-in inequality in gender representation in the gaming world, players often must navigate chats and in-game interactions with other players that run the gamut from rude, to outright hostile or creepy.
This is exacerbated by the relative anonymity afforded participants in an online video game chat. Individuals can hide their true identity behind a username and a game character, allowing them the freedom to behave in ways that they might not if they were accountable for their choices.
While bullying and hostility are common in online gaming interactions, female players have reported feeling so uncomfortable or threatened by other players that they choose to stay silent or avoid online interaction. This need to self-censor and avoid interaction means females are not able to interact and experience the game on an equal playing field with male players.
Changing Demographics of Online Gaming
While some gains have been made in recent years in terms of building greater diversity and inclusivity into the gaming industry, there is still a great deal of distance to cover.
A recent study of the top 100 video games released from 2017 to present, revealed that approximately 80% of the main characters are male, and around 55% are Caucasian. On the flip side, only a scant 8% of main characters are female, and a race other than Caucasian.
These statistics show that the representation of both gender and race in the gaming world is clearly not representative of the world as a whole.
A handful of forward-thinking companies have made concerted efforts to increase the representation of diverse characters in video games; however, much more must be done to change the overarching culture across the entire gaming industry before we will begin to see significant inclusivity in all areas of gaming.
Embracing Inclusivity in Gaming
We have discussed the improvements that need to be implemented before the gaming world can be considered truly inclusive of all. So, let’s take a look at what has been accomplished toward that end so far.
As mentioned earlier in this post, a small number of video game companies have taken concrete steps to increase diversity and foster inclusivity in the industry.
Activision Blizzard is one of the largest companies in the industry to embrace transparency in the workplace in an effort to reduce the gender pay gap and the male-dominated atmosphere in the technology industry.
In addition, employees at one of Activision Blizzard’s main subsidiaries, Raven Software, recently voted to form the first employee union in the video game industry, and Activision Blizzard has indicated its willingness to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Communication Workers of America.
Embracing Inclusivity in eSports
The eSports industry has been making its own strides forward, as well. Several organizations have sprung up in the past decade focused on presenting a collective, united effort to end the exclusion of women in video games. Here are just a few of the organizations leading the charge to increase diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry.
Women in Games: With over a decade of organization and advocacy efforts to its credit, Women In Games has been instrumental in pulling in high-level support from some of the top names in the industry and securing their commitment to help create a gaming industry that is free of gender discrimination where all women are empowered with the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
FemaleLegends: Sweden’s FemaleLegends, an all female eSports community, has managed to secure significant investment in recent years. This funding has helped to support the implementation of female League of Legends tournaments and eSports boot camps.
AnyKey: Last, but most certainly not least, is AnyKey, a diversity initiative developed through a partnership between ESL and Intel, coordinated to support diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry.
AnyKey focuses heavily on women in eSports and to that end, it provides resources, opportunities, and support for women in all sectors of the gaming and eSports industry from video game development to the world of broadcasting and live gaming spaces.
In total, the state of inclusivity in gaming and eSports remains an ongoing struggle, though it is fair to say that many solid improvements have been made to break the link between gaming and toxicity and specifically to eliminate the exclusion of women in video games.
Still, much work lies ahead. I hope you have been inspired by the information in this post, and I would love to hear your personal or professional experiences with inclusivity in the gaming industry. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!