This is the third in a five-part series on women in the esports industry. Read the first parthere. Today, our panel responds to the notion that “the esports industry doesn’t appeal to women.”
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reported that as of 2018, 45% of gamers in the US are women. In fact, adult women represent a greater portion of videogame players than boys under the age of 18.
If so many women love videogames, why is the esports industry male dominated? There is a common assumption—or observation, depending on who you speak to—that the esports industry is just as not as appealing to women.
Nicole Pike, managing director of Nielsen Esports doesn’t think it is that simple.
“The situation is much, much more complex than this. At Nielsen, we work with fan data, and I can say that on average, esports does have less appeal among women versus men—but that is, of course, just an average. When you take a step back and look at broader gaming, there is more balance across genders versus what exists in esports.
“I think from a player standpoint, the path to go from gaming to competitive gaming—which requires for most esports a group of people to play with—makes it more difficult for females to find a group they can game with, consistently, that they can personally connect with and relate to. In the professional world, there are many layers—but if you simply look at esports as a combination of the gaming industry and the sports industry, it’s not surprising to see that the combined gender disparity of those two industries manifests itself in esports.”
Nicola Piggott, a co-founder of esports communication consultancy The Story Mob,doesn’t see a clear reason for the industry’s gender divide, either. The solution, however, may lie in how women are seen by audiences and colleagues—literally.
“There’s no one esport or right way to enjoy esports, so how can it possibly be said that one gender is more uniquely suited to the sport than another? I’d say the answer is a lot more complex,” says Piggott.
“Women tend to be underrepresented in gaming at the highest levels, and in behind the scenes industries that help support it. I have my own theories about why this could be—lack of aspirational figures, lack of recognizable points of entry, etc. But those are the areas we have to fix.”
HyperX head of strategic alliances and digital marketing innovation Wendy Lecotagrees that underrepresentation could be to blame.
“When young women do not see themselves represented in the workplace or in the competitive scene, they are less likely to be inspired by the industry as a viable career choice and may result in not applying for jobs or being hired,” says Lecot. “It’s important to ensure that there is an abundance of initiatives to break the cycle of a lack of role models and heroes and empowers women to participate in the gaming industry.”
Social culture toward women in the gaming industry can be a wide spectrum of welcoming and toxic, notes Morgan Romine, Ph.D., director of initiatives for AnyKey.
Credit: Riot Games
“Thanks to my many years working with women in esports, I have countless stories about women loving esports games, but being relentlessly told or shown that they don’t belong there and aren’t welcome. The barriers for women in esports are cultural, not a matter of lack of interest,” says Romine.
During her time as CEO of Super League Gaming , Ann Hand has witnessed a glimmer of hope that the culture is changing.
“It’s true that when you game online [there is negativity], not because the games themselves are violent or toxic, but the chat can be. The beautiful thing is, through our experimential gaming leagues, humanity is restored. People really celebrate sportsmanship and teamwork and collaboration. So, we do believe that we create a much more inviting experience—a different way to game—that stands for positivity, inclusion and because of that, we skew well on the number of female gamers.”
G2 Esports partnership executive Sabrina Ratih says that assuming women don’t like esports is a short-sighted view.
“It’s like saying cooking doesn’t appeal to men,” Ratih points out. “It’s not about the sport as such, it’s about the opportunities this environment has to offer and in that respect, esports offers the same, if not many more exciting opportunities than jobs in the traditional sports environment.”
Looking around the industry, Wizards of the Coast Vice President of Esports Elaine Chase doesn’t see any problems that can’t be fixed.
Credit: Riot Games
“There are too many incredible women who are thriving in the space to support the idea that esports doesn’t generally appeal to women,” Chase said. “Women might be outnumbered by men currently, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything inherently unappealing about the industry. It just means that the structures in place and the funnel running through the ecosystem do a better job of generating men as both players and professionals.”
ESL North America CEO Yvette Martinez-Rea believes that her organization is leading by example.
“I know quite personally that esports hold a plethora of opportunities for women, and all of us at ESL take our responsibility very seriously to ensure we’re highlighting these opportunities—by hiring capable women, by ensuring we’re providing welcoming competitive experiences, by raising the profile of the many, many women who play, stream, host, and attend events.”
Lindsey Eckhouse, commercial director at G2 Esports, believes that, in many ways, the esports industry is already diverse.
“It certainly has appealing elements for women,” said Eckhouse. “There is always a need for more diversity, and a need for women in leadership positions to support those that are interested in getting into the industry or rising within it. I am a big believer in hiring the best person for the job regardless of gender or background, but I still get excited when I see women leaning into this world, particularly in a commercial function.”
G2 Esports head of communications Karina Ziminaite reminds us that the esports industry is made up of many roles besides gamers and fans.
Credit: Riot Games
“Esports is diverse and it’s not only about gamers—there are accountants, producers, editors, HR managers, lawyers, and more,” Ziminaite said. “In the same way that industries like logistics or retail don’t appeal to everyone, esports will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I believe it is not gender-based, but interest-based. In the last couple of years, I have witnessed dozens of talented women running tournaments, production, and contributing in many different ways to the growth of the industry. I have no doubt that I am going to see even more in the coming years!”
Kalie Moore, a co-founder of The Story Mob, is already seeing a dynamic shift in how girls and women view esports.
“I believe the culture is changing and that parents of young kids today are less focused on gender roles,” Moore observed. “Little girls are being introduced to what were traditionally considered male hobbies at higher rates, and this access will change the gender makeup of esports in future generations.”
Christie St. Martin, senior director of social strategy at Sparks says that the esports industry has already come a long way in the past 15 years.
“I think there is a lot of incredible opportunities for women in the esports space and there is no better time to step up and own your craft and continue to make this industry more dynamic,” says St. Martin. “I am so proud to see all the incredible women deeply invested in this industry who are paving the way for the next generation. I know in 10 years this won’t be a question we ask the new roster of ladies in this space.”
Story Mob Co-Founder Anna Rozwandowicz believes that esports will be as attractive to anyone as those in the industry make it.
Credit: Riot Games
“If it doesn’t appeal to one specific group of people, that’s because we aren’t considering them and their needs enough,” said Rozwandowicz. “From a business perspective, I think esports is a very attractive industry for men and women alike, so it isn’t hard to find talented candidates for any of the open roles right now. However, I do know that companies struggle to retain female talent when the internal culture isn’t based on values of equality, inclusivity, and growth for all.
“From the perspective of fans, I think we can do a much better job at catering to an audience that doesn’t tick the “18-25 male” box. I’d love to see more brands targeting female fans, and I’d love for it to go beyond [the] so-called ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach.”