Women in Gaming: An Introduction

This blog post was written by Coach Bethany Pyles, who works as NASEF's Esports Coaching Coordinator.

Recent studies have shown that at least 48% of all gamers identify as female. So, why is it so difficult to recruit females to join an esports club or team? 

  • Should I join the team chat?
  • Should I try to deepen my voice if I need to speak? 
  • Maybe I should flex or play a support role to help the team.
  • I really don’t want to lose. They will probably blame me. 
  • I wish my teammate would stop flirting with me. I just want to play.
    If I mute my team maybe I can focus or maybe we’ll lose the game from lack of communication?
  • It’s easier if I just go along with their strategy. I don’t want to defend myself again today.

These are just a few examples of the thoughts that might run through my head while gaming as a female. Although they might seem insignificant, they point to a larger issue for female gamers. Feeling uncomfortable while engaging in activity that you love inserts unnecessary and undesirable pressure and stress along the way. For many female gamers, the past and present competitive esports scene can feel more like a fraternity than an inviting space to connect and compete. 

One alternative for women to overcome this cultural barrier is to simply game alone. However, female athletes that sacrifice community could end up experiencing disparity in resources and opportunities almost immediately. The isolation of female gamers also perpetuates the lack of female visibility. The lack of female visibility in esports sends a clear message to women and other marginalized populations that, “you don’t belong”. In the past, we were lucky to see women in roles as a host or interviewer. Now, we can see women in roles as coaches and team managers. But let’s not forget, women are also competitors,  players and top tier athletes.

Morgan Romine from AnyKey explains another insight to why we don’t see females in competition, “Many women who are avid players at home still avoid tournaments because they anticipate that they’ll be the only woman there. Being the token representative of any minority adds attention and pressure that can discourage inexperienced participants.” This parallels the experience a female student might have  when deciding to join their esports club or trying-out for the team roster. 

Thankfully, we’ve already begun to witness the success of all-women tournaments. In recent years, all-women esports events have been increasing female participation in competitive roles and are bringing more visibility to female esports athletes. This year’s 2019 Dreamhack has an all-women’s CS.GO tournament with a $100,000 prize pool. 

However, supporting female participation through all-women tournaments and teams is just one strategy. We also have the opportunity to use the momentum created by these emerging female spaces to cultivate the next generation of esports competitors.  

However, recruiting young women for the next generation may take more effort than a simple invitation. NASEF educators, coaches and general managers will play a crucial role in shaping and mentoring the next generation of esports athletes. As we prepare for the Fall tournament season it’s worth asking some probing questions to take note of the “climate” of our clubs and teams if we want to expect change. 

  • How does it feel to be part of this team/club? 
  • What kinds of conversations are taking place in and out of sessions? 
  • Who is the leader of the club? Do they represent an inclusive vision of this club? 
  • Do we have a club agreement in place? Does it need to be updated or revised?
  • Is there a clear vision for my club members and athlete? 
  • What do students have to say?

Along with regular climate checks, understanding the code of conduct and creating a team agreement at the beginning of a season can ensure all players feel safe and have a voice. A team charter or team agreement should include, space to track the goals of every individual player as well as team objectives and expectations set by the players themselves. This is a powerful tool because teams can develop them together. This isn’t a list of rules handed to them from a higher authority. It’s a living document, guided by a mentor that binds a team’s expectations together. Team charters are most impactful when they are clearly visible in your team’s space (not just an online document) and when GMs, coaches and Ambassadors work together to keep players accountable for their agreements and progress on their goals. 

Often times, the teams that seem the most mechanically prepared for a tournament end up being the least prepared to mitigate team dynamic issues and often skip this simple step. Regardless of experience, gender, or rank, teams could be implementing charters to prepare themselves for each season and creating space in their team’s culture for future players.

Thankfully, we’ve already begun to see many all-women tournaments succeeding in bringing more visibility to professional female competitors and organizations over the years. This year’s 2019 Dreamhack has an all-women’s CS.GO tournament with a $100,000 prize pool. However, supporting the increase of female participation through all-women tournaments and teams is just one part of the strategy. One female athlete in an entire league (20 teams in the Overwatch League), one girl on a high school roster, and one female host promoted to analyst. These are some of the things we are celebrating in 2019. My hope is that we collectively raise the bar and expect more from our favorite teams, organizations and clubs. 

Most importantly to the girl who loves gaming but doesn’t see how she fits into esports I’d simply say, there is no place you don’t belong and no role you’re required to play. Whether you’re interested in competing or curious about a career, you don’t need permission to succeed. And although you may have never learned their names, there are extraordinary female esports athletes and experts that have paved the way and increased opportunities and more that continue to do so today. 

If you’re interested in connecting with other female gamers and female mentors within NASEF, check out the NASEF Community Discord server. I’d also recommend educators and parents to check out this list of Best Practices for Gender Inclusive Tournaments developed by AnyKey for more examples of ways to maximize inclusivity in your club or tournament.