Research suggests women in esports make up just 5% of the industry, and within top tier competitions they’re not winning big.
No women have won any of the biggest prizes in competitive esports. As an example, only 0.002% of competitive DOTA winnings have been claimed by female competitors. This is despite the fact that women make up almost 50% of the non-competitive gaming market worldwide.
Why is there a lack of women in esports?
Women have frequently spoken out against toxic and inappropriate behaviour directed at them when gaming online. Incidents like the so-called ‘Gamergate’ scandal have revealed to the wider world some of the challenges girls and women face due to problematic gatekeeping and sexism.
Some women feel so uncomfortable that they disguise their gender when gaming online, or mute chat functions to avoid harassment. However, these measures can inhibit effective communication in team games. It also makes it harder to bonds with fellow players.
Poor visibility of women in esports
When it comes to streaming gameplay online, viewing stats on major platforms seem to suggest that there is a strong bias towards male streamers. This can affect where investment, advertising, and sponsorship from esports organisations and other major gaming entities ends up.
With less investment and fewer opportunities to break through, the level of development for budding female esports athletes is not as robust as it may be for top-tier male talent.
Addressing gender disparity in esports
Improving representation of women in esports
A lack of identifiable role models can make a career in esports – be it competitive playing, managing, or coaching – seem like a less attainable goal for aspiring girls and women alike.
Female esports teams
One of the first and most prominent all-female gaming teams is the iconic PMS Clan. Founded in 2002 by Amber Dalton (AthenaTwin) and Amy Brady (Valkyrie) they were previously called Psychotic Man Slayerz but have since changed their name to Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers.
The group’s mission is to normalise the presence of women in gaming and help create a supportive competitive environment that challenges stereotypes and breaks down boundaries. As their name suggests, they’re also not afraid to tackle sexism head on.
Professional women in esports
The visibility of pioneers and successes of female esports pros sets examples that other women can look to for encouragement.
Sasha Hostyn (Scarlett) is the highest earning female esports player and a Starcraft II champion to boot.
In 2016 Korean esports pro Kim Se-yeon (Geguri) was accused by male competitors of cheating. As a result, she was forced to prove her skills in a controlled environment. Her subsequent demonstration was resounding proof of her superiority, but also that female esports athletes may not be taken as seriously in a male-dominated arena.
Women influencing pro-gaming culture
Besides competing at the top level, the fight against sexism also requires a culture change.
Women in positions of power within the gaming industry can profoundly alter attitudes by pushing for systemic change from the top down.
As the first black female esports CEO, Nicole LaPointe Jameson is both an important figure and representative trailblazer. Her implementation of 50% female management at Evil Geniuses, and signing of the first mixed-gender Valorant squad in 2021, show that conversations around inclusivity can move beyond surface visibility at the competitive level.
Initiatives like the British Esports Association’s Women in Esports are designed to encourage women of all kinds into the world of pro gaming. Creating communities of likeminded people fosters the formation of networks that can implement change.
Supportive communities, streamers, and players
Gamers like Stephanie Harvey (missharvey) and Kristen Valnicek (KittyPlays) used their respective successes in competitive gaming and Twitch streaming to move into roles within the wider esports industry. They’ve gone on to create supportive communities for female gamers and their allies.
The success of the Women in Games Festival and its esports tournament has also highlighted the demand for female pro-gaming content.
Women are beginning to get more places and organisations that enable the development of skills and teams to compete at the top level, where gender plays no role in acceptance and players are competitive, while being encouraging.
Where do we go from here?
Female gamers should be celebrated and discussed outside of – and in spite of – conversations surrounding gender.
Lauding achievements and sharing competitive content helps everyone to celebrate what women are doing in the gaming space and normalises the idea of competitive female talent.
Female-only teams and competitions are great for building skills and confidence, but many believe long-term segregation ultimately won’t close the gender divide. Barriers between groups should continue to be broken down until gender in esports is no longer a consideration, and only skill, talent, and achievement remain.
Looking for more deep dives into different aspects of gaming culture? Our blog explores a range of substantial topics and debates relevant to the gaming community. If you enjoyed this post, check out our analyses of whether games should have age ratings, or our feature on online gaming addiction.