The effects of esports’ sizable gender gap

Esports has a big gender gap

Photo via Andrew Bell/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Esports has a big gender gap.

A profound 90 to 94 percent of esports viewers are male, according to a survey of viewers taken across three events in League of Legends and StarCraft 2 over the last year.

By contrast, nearly half of all video game players today are women and 46 percent of the Super Bowl viewing audience is female. It’s not as if ladies don’t enjoy gaming, competition, or a good spectacle—but, in most countries, esports has thus far failed to connect with them.

The notable exception is South Korea, where Brood War and League of Legends professionals have boasted large male and female followings for more than a decade. However, the high level of national celebrity achieved by Korean esports stars has never been matched elsewhere.

WellPlayed, an esports production company, conducted the survey over the course of one year at the CLG Premiere Series (League of Legends, Feb. 2013), the Spring Promotion Tournament (League of Legends, Dec. 2013), and the Ender’s Game on Blu-Ray Tournament (StarCraft 2, Feb. 2014). Of the 2,040 respondents, 69 were female; 33 listed themselves as “other.”

By no coincidence, esports has had to deal with several issues of sexism in the not-so-distant past. 

Kim “Eve” Shee-Yoon, one of the first and only female StarCraft 2 professionals, was signed to a professional contract “for her skills and looks,” said her team’s manager, a female. Kim closed her Twitter account in 2013 after what she characterized as “sexual harassment.” Men tweeted pictures of themselves masturbating on pictures of Kim.

When Street Fighter x Tekken player Aris Bakhtanians made a string of uncomfortable sexual comments toward female teammate Miranda “SuperYan” Pakozdi while broadcasting live on a major event’s stream, the incident made international headlines far beyond the gaming press. Bakhtanians guessed at Pakozdi’s bra size and asked to watch her in the bathroom, among other comments.

“This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture,” Bakhtanians said, “and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.”

Gender isn’t the only demographic imbalance esports faces. Many esports communities are racially homogeneous as well.

“When you look at the crowd, it’s literally, like, find the black person,” said Tom Cannon, cofounder of the Evolution Champion Series. “It’s all Korean people from Korea, or Asian-Americans, or Caucasians—almost 100 percent. And it’s a little bit intimidating to think, OK, I’m going to go in here and, like, be a part of this thing, when there’s nobody who looks like me in this scene.”

Although no studies have been done about race in esports, it only takes one trip to a Major League Gaming event to confirm what Cannon says. With the notably racially diverse exception of the fighting-game community, Asians and white Americans make up an enormous portion of esports players and fans. Black and Middle Eastern esports fans are conspicuously missing.

The WellPlayed survey found that the dominant age range for esports viewers is 19 to 25. A mere 1.4 percent of viewers were over 40, all of whom watched StarCraft 2. StarCraft’s age advantage might be explained by the fact that the franchise is a full decade older than League of Legends.

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