I have been trying to steer clear of articles about sexism, mostly because it always feels like a giant can of worms. However, statements have been made that made my blood boil, and it should make yours do the same.
Local Facebook uproar
It all started over on Facebook, in that glorious Facebook group, Dota 2 South Africa. There, a young lady made the following request:
Now, I don’t want to say anything negative about this particular girl. She says she already plays Dota and League of Legends (LoL), and maybe she does want to get involved in eSports. Plus, can you really blame her for wanting a free overseas trip just by playing video games? I love the fact that I get to travel thanks to my passion for gaming – why wouldn’t others want to pursue that?
Well, the issue comes in with sexism. Just why exactly is there such an opportunity for a women-only team? Don’t worry – for those familiar with the MSSA and its former president, Colin Webster, you won’t be surprised to read that he explained this in a way only he can:
It is now accepted by many academics world-wide that there are many differences between males and females when it comes to gaming. As a result there will always be different outcomes, and until the situation is fully understood the IeSF has decided to run the two genders separately so that as many people can benefit from international competition.
Not only that, but it is a requirement from the international sporting governing bodies insist that all events be run for both males and females.
He went on to site that the Swedish National Federation is a big proponent of this, yet I have yet to be able to find the federation he speaks of [Edit: we found it, I think]. I assume that he heard about it during the one academic he can name who made this point, a “Ms Bergstrom” (Professor? Lecturer?) of Stockholm University who gave a lecture about gender issues in gaming at Wits.
Before I look at the validity of these statements, I just want to point out that the very notion of someone gathering together a group of women, “no matter how shit” they are could only work under the auspices of the MSSA. They sent a female StarCraft II competitor to play in an international tournament, despite only having played the game for a few months and clearly being a below par player. It was an embarrassment for South African eSports, showing the world that our competitors aren’t up to the same standard as international players. Plus, it encourages the idea that girls don’t have to be good at eSports, they can be awarded and sent overseas purely based on having a vagina.
Can women play eSports? Of course they can. If you look at the DGL (which allows men and women to play together) you can see two co-ed premier teams. Considering that far fewer women engage in competitive gaming, it’s encouraging to see that LoL team MaDJabberwocky is captained by a woman, and BF4 team eLement also has a female member. Yes, eSports is still dominated by men, but women can and do play, even with and against male counterparts.
An international debate
The issue of sexism in eSports is a big one. I haven’t even touched on the abuse and harassment that women can suffer when engaging in eSports, nor will I look at the differences in depictions of athletes and teams. Continuing to look at access to games and separation/segregation of women, we see that this is an international trend, although it is dominant in Asia.
I suppose this is the double-edged sword: eSports is hugely popular in Korea, Singapore and China, which means that many countries follow them when deciding how to approach eSports. However, those countries are still very patriarchal and, despite plenty of rights for women, treat women differently. Just look at this all girls tournament Dota 2 tournament under the brand of AsianCyberGames: it’s literally called “Call for the Beauties”. The IeSF is the federation that the MSSA chose to affiliate with for eSports, and is also based out of Korea; it makes sense why we see these policies.
I would gladly make a team with people as skilled as me and compete in tournaments that befit that skill. But i would NEVER compete in those paraolympiads where i am treated in a special way because i got tits and people are using me to sell tickets based on the fact that sexy girls will be put onto the tournament. Those tournaments are not creating space for woman, they are creating a cage and creating the exact opposite of “promoting esports for women”, they are creating a situation where womans are considered beautiful mannequins. If a serious female tournaments will be ever organised I will be the first to buy a ticket.
I may be able to believe that the intentions are good, that women’s only tournaments are just built to give women extra opportunities and encouragement to participate in eSports. Unfortunately, it seems to be implemented in a wholly misguided way that actually continues the trend of objectifying and undermining female gamers. The MSSA has gained the reputation of sending any woman overseas, regardless of ability in the eSport discipline, leading people like Maryke to try to put together a national girl’s team for travel and competitions. And what about the issues that women only sports engender – just what would I need to do to join this team? Is there anything I need to show to “prove” that I’m a woman? Traditional sports already have this issue, just think of Caster Semenya, do we really need to bring these debates into eSports, when men and women have no inherent differences that predetermine their different eSporting abilities?
It all just goes to show that the MSSA is not only promoting sexism in eSports, they’re actually also letting their cis-gendered mentality discriminate against men, women and the trans and inter-sexed community. People of all races, genders and orientations are welcome to play eSports – I just personally recommend that they do so in competitions other than those held by any association that engages in sexist tournaments.