By Matt Basta, Director, Esports
A few weeks ago, I was at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York — not for tennis — but to watch a 16- year-old from a small town in Pennsylvania win $3 million as Fortnite World Cup Champion.
It was electric and marked what certainly felt like a watershed moment for Esports.
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf had beaten the top 100 players in the world in front of a packed house where legends like Serena and Roger typically hoist the hardware. It broke through to mainstream culture and media with stars like Jimmy Fallon taking the Esports plunge to interview its newly anointed star.
And with all the excitement and buzz (mostly over the prize pool), something was missing that weekend.
Not a single female player was represented in the top 100.
With Esports revenues projected to surpass $1 billion globally in 2019 and major non-endemic brands joining the party, Esports needs to have a focus on inclusion and diversity to further establish its legitimacy.
The good news is the needle is starting to move.
Ashley “MiDNiTE” Glassel recently left OpTic Gaming to consult with the Minnesota Call of Duty franchise. FaZe Clan signed Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler as its first female member during the Fortnite World Cup. She is also the first deaf competitive gamer on their roster. Immortals Gaming Club boasts several women on its executive team driving HR, partnerships, PR, players and events. On-air esports talent or “casters” like Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, Frankie Ward and Christine “Potter” Chi are becoming fan favorites for major events like the BLAST Pro Series and DreamHack.
However, the real stake in the ground came from Gen.G who partnered with the women-first social networking app Bumble to build its first all-women Fortnite team, known as Team Bumble, to “promote a healthy environment in which all esports can succeed and connect with one another.”
Saira Mueller, director of content for Gen.G, said, “Our industry is really starting to stabilize, and it’s important to give women a voice in gaming. We’ve been working on this initiative for over a year, and we’re committed to leading this discussion through content and developing the best players in the world.”
For all the recent steps forward, there are still obstacles to overcome, starting with cyberbullying encountered by female gamers. It’s no surprise female gamers receive three times more negative comments online from other players, and the “trash talk” usually involves gender. The gaming industry (and parents) need to have real conversations with kids to create an environment of respect and fair competition that encourages more girls to engage.
Esports must also create a system for women to compete. Some argue we need esports leagues for women like the WNBA or NWSL or develop more events like the GirlGamer Esports Festival. But in doing so, are we just creating an even more gender divide? The WNBA offers a powerful platform for young girls to aspire to professional basketball, but Esports inherently provides a more even-playing field.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Esports mobile gaming. Skillz, a leading mobile Esports platform, reported it paid out $8 million in prize money in 2018 to the 10 best users, and among the top 10, seven were female gamers. In general, women are taking the lead on mobile titles, opting not to invest in the more popular first-person shooter games that are male dominated. Many believe mobile Esports is a sleeping giant.
In a recent conversation with The Guardian, FaZe Clan CEO Lee Trink said, “There aren’t enough females gaming in the titles that are competitive in esports, so we end up having a smaller pool that are even in contention. Typically, we become aware of gamers rising through the ranks and there just aren’t many girls to choose from. This is an issue facing the entire gaming industry — from publishers to platforms to organizations.”
We need to build a bigger pool indeed. Public relations will play a pivotal role in elevating stories of female gamers to build visibility and develop role models for young girls to compete.
While fans are gearing up for marquee U.S. events like the LCS Summer Finals in Detroit, ESL One in New York and Overwatch Grand Finals in Philadelphia in the coming weeks, there is a chance you won’t see any female gamers competing in these events. Is esports leaving money on the table by not developing more esports titles that would attract more female gamers? Or does the industry just need to go a better job of inclusiveness?
As Immortals Gaming Club CEO Ari Segal said recently, “Every day, a baseball fan dies, and two gaming fans are born.”
Every day, we should be building a collective system that shouts from of the top of the roof, “Esports is for all!”
That’s when GG (which means good game) stands for something greater.