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.
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!