Transparent Seas

Mitch Bowman's internet domicile.

Gender Segregation in eSports

In news that will surprise no one, somebody said something dumb on the internet today. Specifically, the folks at Garena Esports (a pretty big esports tournament organizer) decided to release this statement. You should really read the whole thing so you can grasp the full absurdity of it, but the gist is that they want their “Iron Solari” all-female tournament teams to abide by strict limitations on how many gay or transgender members are on their team.

What does one’s sexual preference have to do with their performance in a League of Legends tournament, you ask? Nobody at Garena seems to be able to explain their theory on the matter terribly well, and most reasonable adults can probably conclude that the answer is “fuck all.” As such, the backlash against this announcement has been pretty vociferous.

There’s really not much for me to say here; this is an obviously ridiculous, incredibly poorly thought-out move by Garena, and one that’s probably going to make them some long-term enemies in the LGBT community. Nothing about this is acceptable or even really comprehensible, and Garena deserves every bit of scorn that gets heaped upon them here.

That said, the response to this ill-advised announcement has brought another long-standing debate back to the forefront of esports-related conversations, and that’s something I’d like to talk about a bit: do esports need gender segregation at all? Is an all-female League of Legends tournament even necessary in the first place, regardless of Garena’s dumb LGBT rules? It’s a tough question to answer, and there’s certainly a reason this debate hasn’t been settled over the years.

I’ll preface my opinion on this by saying I’m a straight white dude with absolutely no horse in this race, so there’s undoubtedly people more qualified to talk about this stuff than me. Go read their opinions instead if you feel so inclined. I love, watch, and have reported on a ton of esports events, however, so I do at least have some idea what I’m talking about.

First and foremost, the biggest and most obvious argument against gender segregation in esports is the Fighting Game Community. They’ve been running 99% of their tournaments as mixed-gender since the dawn of time, and while they’ve certainly had some gender-related drama at times, no female FGC player has ever complained about not being able to compete with the boys. There’s been several successful female FGCers, and they’re pretty concrete proof that gender segregation isn’t necessary in a competitive gaming environment.

Unfortunately, the FGC also makes an argument in favour of segregation: it’s around 90-95% dudes still, despite the long-term inclusion of women in their tournaments. If the goal is equal representation, the FGC is struggling, and it’s going to be hard to encourage more women to get into fighting games when the incumbent player base is such a sausage fest. That imbalance is discouraging and alienating for the minority party, just like it is for female engineers and computer scientists and whatnot.

So maybe there is a place for ladies-only tournaments, simply as a method of onboarding women into an esport that might be pretty alienating for them in its current state. Maybe there’s an argument to be made in favour of gender segregated tournaments, if only as a temporary measure to help expedite the process of getting more women involved in esports. I don’t think this is as terrible of an idea as others have opined. I do think that it needs to be done carefully, however, to avoid a situation like Garena now finds themselves in. Here’s a few quick tips on running a female-only tournament that won’t piss people off, and might actually be a useful way to get more girls into esports.

1. Don’t do the dumb shit Garena just did. If you’re concerning yourself with the sexual orientation of your tournament entrants, you’re fucking up. Don’t worry about it, and don’t make any rules regarding it. This is super not rocket science.

2. Let women play in the “men’s” tournament if they want to. At this point, due to the demographics of esports, we can safely assume that the “men’s” tournament is in fact the main event, where all the money and viewers are. If you have female players who feel ready to jump in there, don’t force them to play in your all-female side tourney. The point of the side tourney isn’t segregation, but onboarding, so those who feel ready to move on should be allowed to. (If you respond to this post with some shit about that being unfair because men can’t play in the women’s tourney, you’re an oblivious dipshit. Please spare us.)

3. Don’t make it an afterthought. Get that all-female tourney on the main stage, on the main stream, and give it a decent prize pool. Don’t relegate it to some B-stream that no one watches and expect people to applaud you. If the point here is to get more women into esports, the women in your esports tournament need to be visible to your main audience, which means putting it in front of the people who are there for the main tournament. Think of it like an undercard fight during a PPV boxing event.

4. Just fucking be respectful. This is another one that isn’t rocket science. Don’t have commentators who constantly bring up the gender of the tourney participants, or who comment on the participants’ appearance, or anything dumb like that. This should go without saying, but stuff like the above-mentioned examples has totally happened before. Stahp.

5. Involve women in other ways, too. Having an all-female tourney isn’t the be all and end all of involving women in esports. There’s lots of other ways to improve diversity, like having women on the tourney organizations/production team. Get a qualified lady to commentate some matches – ESL One does this for their CS:GO tournaments. Shout outs to Pansy.

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Most of this stuff is probably common sense, but there you have it. Do these things and maybe we can actually have a vaguely egalitarian esports community one of these days. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If you’re looking for an example of a well-run female-only esports tournament, look no further than last year’s Copenhagen Games Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. They had a great undercard tourney on the main stream, with several all-female CS:GO teams in attendance. It was great competitive CS, totally enjoyable to watch, and some of those teams are now sponsored by the same big esports orgs that sponsor the big men’s teams. More of that, please!

Mechanics elitism is bullshit

I woke up this morning to a new video from Chris Franklin, the dude who makes the Errant Signal series. It’s about the divide between how we talk about story and how we talk about mechanics in games criticism, and about how we’re all sort of terrible at looking at games as cohesive works, without separating them out into “story good, systems bad” or whatever. You should watch the video:

As much as I like this video, I wish it went further, because I think there’s another topic very close at hand here that Chris doesn’t address. There’s a whole can of worms that’s closely related to this divide between systems and narrative, and it’s had a huge effect on how people talk about games, especially in the last few months with all the bullshit that’s been going on.

I’m referring to the fact that not only are narrative and mechanics kept largely apart from each other when discussing games, but among “core” gamers, mechanics are prioritized to a degree that makes people look completely insane sometimes. Think of all the games you see derided by “core” gamers as “non-games” or “walking simulators” or whatever; Gone Home, Proteus, that sort of thing. They’re all games that are very systems-light, and rely on either narrative or aesthetics to make their impact.

There’s a huge chunk of the gaming public who see games that are more narrative-focused as objectively worse than those that are systems-focused, to the point of considering systems-light games to be not even real games. These folks are particularly prevalent among those who play a lot of games and consider it an important part of their identity.

To me, it sort of feels like another concerning manifestation of social conservatism. Mainstream games have always been heavily reliant on mechanics and difficulty of execution, so that’s how games have to be forever. Harumph.

It’s no surprise that we see this “Gone Home isn’t a real game” bullshit from a very similar cross-section of people as we’re seeing the “Stop talking about political or social issues in muh vidya game reviews pls” comments coming from. It’s all an attempt to protect the status quo from people who have traditionally been excluded from the “core” gaming space. It’s the worst sort of regressive, exclusionary nonsense.

It sucks, please stop it. The correct response to the existence of media you don’t enjoy is the same as it always has been: don’t fucking play/watch/read it.

Happy New Year, here’s some hot new shit

Welp, 2014 is over. It was not a great year for gaming, if we’re being honest. Ubisoft pooped out a couple completely unfinished games, Microsoft punted the launch of Master Chief Collection, and uh…GamerGate happened. Fuck GamerGate.

Thankfully, we’ve got a whole new year on our hands now, to ruin as we see fit. Here’s my first published thing for the year:

How Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is turning into the world’s most exciting eSport

It’s the first thing I’ve written for PCGamesN, which is pretty neato. I’ll probably be doing some more stuff for them in the near future, including more CS:GO-related stuff. Cool. Cool cool cool.

A couple new things.

Hey folks. I just got back from Mexico City a few days ago. You can see some photos from that trip here. While I was out, a couple things I wrote before I left got published!

1. I did a feature about creating convincing wildernesses in games, with interviews with Jake Rodkin from Campo Santo (creators of Firewatch), and Andrew Poznanski of The Astronauts (creators of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter). It’s up on Rock Paper Shotgun now.

2. I also did a spread for Edge Magazine #273, about The Behemoth’s (the Castle Crashers folks) awesome custom arcade cabinets that they bring to PAX and other trade shows. You’ll have to pick up the magazine, in print or digital, to read that one.

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EDGE Issue 270’s out, and I’m in it!

This handsome looking issue of EDGE Magazine came out yesterday. I wrote a short piece about the development of Spintires for it. It’s the first time I’ve been published in Edge, and the first time I’ve been in any sort of physical print magazine, so that’s pretty cool.

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The Unpaid Cost of Urban Living

I have a neighbour who has a drum set in his garage. He is not very good at playing it, but he does so fairly often. His garage is not particularly well insulated, and it’s right behind by house (we share a back alley). Sometimes, it’s pretty loud. At no point have I ever been bothered by this, or even dreamed of going over and giving him shit.

I consider this part of my contract with the neighbourhood I live in. I grew up in the suburbs, and at some point decided that that wasn’t really for me, and that I’d like to live as close to downtown as I could reasonably afford to. I think most people are pretty familiar with the appeal of moving into the inner city from the suburbs; beyond the obvious logistical conveniences of living close to the places you want to spend time, there’s also a certain culture that comes with living in the city that doesn’t quite make the jump to townhouses and shopping malls in the ‘burbs.

I’ve always accepted that those benefits have some implicit baggage included with them. The reality of living in a place as densely populated as most big cities are is that privacy becomes by and large non-existent. You’re going to hear the older married couple next door yelling at each other in a language you don’t understand; you’re going to hear the bullshit pop music the mormon girls upstairs listen to incessantly. And you’re going to put up with it, because that’s the deal you signed when you decided you wanted to live in the city. There’s a place you can go if you want to have your own kingdom and sequester yourself away from the other human beings around you. It’s called the suburbs.

Sometimes, it seems like there are a lot of people who don’t understand this, or at least don’t agree with my assessment of it.

For example, when you move into a brand new condo development and there’s a live music venue across the street that’s been there for a decade, common sense would dictate that you don’t get to tell them to shut up. They were there first, and you knew they were there when you bought your half a million dollar condo. If you want to move into a neighbourhood with a “vibrant culture” or whatever line the realtor sold you, you don’t get to dictate the terms on which that culture reaches you.

Strangely, this is never how it pans out. As soon as the condos go up, the institutions that made that neighbourhood worth building those pricey flats in in the first place start to come down. The noise complaints flood in from the indignant new homeowners, and soon enough the art studio or DIY venue or cheap Mexican restaurant is replaced with a Starbucks or a Lululemon. It turns out the people who thought they wanted to live in the city actually just want to live in a suburb that’s closer to their downtown office.

Maybe it’s cynical of me, but it seems the higher the price tag on the new condos is, the more swiftly they manage to suck the life out of their vicinity.

I’ll be frank here: this shit is a bummer. I’ve seen it happen to countless formerly cool spots in my city, and I can’t imagine it doesn’t happen in most other large-ish cities. Somebody – a large number of somebodies – aren’t sticking to the deal. They want to eat their cake and have it too, by getting all the benefits of city living with none of the sacrifices. They think because they spent way too much money on a condo, they shouldn’t have to hear the guy upstairs doing his P90X tapes.

If you are one of these people, you need to have a hard think about whether you belong here. Living in the city means compromising with your neighbours and putting up with their intrusions sometimes. That is the price we all pay for being a part of our city’s culture and community. If you’re not willing to do that, then there’s a nice big house in South Surrey with your name on it. You won’t be missed.

Steam trading feature is live!

Awwww yissssss. My feature on Steam trading that I spent like two months working on is finally live, and as usual the Polygon layout team made it looks awesome. I’m all up on that front page today – go check it out!

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I reviewed Transistor!

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Transistor, the new game from the folks that made Bastion, came out today. I reviewed it for Gameranx, and had a great time. It is a seriously beautiful game. Read my review here!

Doin’ thangs.

A quick update on what I’ve been up to: I just finished the editing process for a new Polygon feature, which I’ve been working on for the last couple months. It’s about some of the amazing stories the Steam economy has produced over the last couple years since it launched, and it’s got some killer interviews with scammers, sharks, victims, and a CS:GO developer. I think it’ll be going up in the next couple weeks – I’ll be sure to post a link when it arrives.

In the mean time, I’m starting to gather material for feature about Relic Entertainment and their multiple buyouts and regime changes. No real idea of when or where it’ll be published yet, but I’m working on lining up interviews and will be plugging away at it for the next little while.

I’m on Polygon now!

Welp, my first feature for Polygon went live today. It’s a big feature I spent like a month working on, and it turned out pretty great. Go check it out.

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