I spent the weekend at DreamHack Atlanta, and while walking around the show floor I couldn’t miss the flashing lights and the booming musical bass lines, but something was missing from the crowds: a proportional number of women. I decided to check out the “Women in Esports” panel, where presumably there would be more women in attendance.
While waiting 15 minutes for one of the panelists to arrive, I counted an almost equal number of men and women in the audience. Once the panel got underway, the hosts began quizzing audience members about their experiences with women in esports, turning the panel into a testimonial session. The topic of ways to get women into esports was broached, and the small crowd fell silent. Everyone there was seemingly unable to come up with tangible ways to bring more women into the scene.
After spending some time thinking about the subject myself and listening to the suggestions from the panelists, I put together a list of things attendees and organizers can do to encourage more women to enter male-dominated esports events. Some of the actions are big, some are small, but they all take some degree of courage and a true desire to diversify esports.
- Put women in the marketing materials for your esports event. Representation matters – and the quickest way to get a marginalized person’s attention is to put someone who looks like them on the front page of a website, the cover of a pamphlet, or in the promotional trailer for your event.
- Push for women to apply to and get hired for leadership positions in gaming and esports. Again, representation matters. Having women in the positions that are doing the hiring and firing has potential to dramatically change the demographics of the business of esports, which can then influence the audience for esports.
- Appeal to business owners’ business sensibilities. If 99% of the customers at a gaming bar are male, the owner has to know they are missing out on money from a huge portion of the human population. If they want to appeal to women, point them to suggestions 1 & 2 on this list.
- Be a real ally. Occasionally you may have to call out your friends or teammates when they say or do something sexist. This work is in some ways harder than anything else on the list because you’re putting yourself at risk of alienation from your own group.
However, as one woman said on the panel, “It doesn’t matter if Johnny is only trash on Tuesday – to us, trash is trash. Cut it out.”
Making a welcoming space for women is about more than Ladies Nights and Gamer Girl Specials – it’s about being able to coexist successfully, and sexism erodes that level playing field fast.
- Start them young. One of the women on the panel said she encourages her young daughters to practice competitive gaming like they would practice any other sport. “Our goal is to expose younger girls to esports so they see how fun it is. That’s why I make my 13 year old practice video games for two hours a day.”
In my years in the esports scene, I’ve watched more and more women join in and break down barriers in the process, but it’s slow going. If we all come together and commit to true diversity at all levels, progress can be attained easier and faster.