Overwatch is definitely a great game and one of the best esports out there – it may not be the biggest, but it is among the most popular in the world! Now, despite this, it has a few flaws that Blizzard and the Overwatch community are trying to iron out – among them is the gender inequality that is especially noticeable at League level.
While it’s true that ‘women complaining about inequality where there isn’t any’ has all but become a problem of society itself, it’s impossible to deny that when it comes to Overwatch pros, there is practically no representation. In fact, just a few months ago, there wasn’t any at all – the Overwatch League’s first female players was only signed on in 2018! Her team went on to rather spectacularly place last in the overall ranking with 0 wins and 40 losses. The Shanghai Dragons consequently dismissed nearly the entire team, save for her and a few other players.
Kim Se-yeon aka Geguri isn’t a bad player at all – she’s among the world’s best Zarya players in fact. She was heavily accused of cheating and aim-botting, and when she was cleared of all suspicions, quite a few of her (male) accusers left the Overwatch pro world entirely.
Now, this could have happened to anyone of course, but it didn’t. It happened to the only female player the League has at the moment – she is only 19 years old too! You have to wonder, if there is one talent like hers, surely, there must be other female players of similar skill levels? Well, the simple answer is: Yes, of course, they are.
For various reasons, however, they struggle to make their way into the ranks of the top players, and it has little to do with skill. One of the biggest issues by far is misogyny. This is reflected in both the general playing community and the pro world.
A simple exercise here: Google the question ‘Why aren’t there more female esports pros?’ and have a look at the search results, especially those in forums. The replies you’ll find there are shocking – from ‘women don’t have what it takes’ to ‘they can’t play anything but healers’, you’ll find just about everything.
There is also the general attitude that Overwatch is not a ‘feminine’ game. Shooters are considered male territory, and females who do try have to often deal with a large amount of bias and ridicule. Assuming a female player can move past that, which is not a simple thing to do at all, she would then have to try to gain access to the same opportunities that men have.
An example from another Blizzard game here: Hearthstone. A Finnish tournament in 2014 was only open to ‘male Finnish players’. The reason for this was that it was a qualifying tournament for another competition, the IeSF World Championship, which, in turn, had a male-only rule, but that doesn’t actually make it any better. While in a sport like football it makes sense to separate genders because of many physical differences, this simply doesn’t apply to esports.
It’s one of the best things about esports – the potential for true equality – and yet, even official tournaments are openly excluding an entire gender for no reason other than that they want to. It is this mindset that continues on in the general attitudes players and fans have towards games, be it Hearthstone, Overwatch or anything else.
At a glance, the lack of female players at pro-level can easily be attributed to things like ‘women don’t play well’ or ‘women aren’t interested’ – and that is one of the pitfalls of this issue. After all, to many female players, it looks like a boys club as well. It takes an extraordinary amount of strength and drive as well as a lot of luck to be able to force your way into a field that plainly doesn’t want you there and doesn’t take steps to encourage your participation.
It’s easy to see why many women would take the path of less resistance and instead pursue other games or even other hobbies where they don’t have to deal with large amounts of undue discrimination and sexism. One argument here is that (usually me) are ‘certain’ that women could make it if they only tried hard enough – this may well be true, but the simple fact is that they shouldn’t have to try harder than male players, not when they can instead focus on their in-game skills alone, without having to fight a system that wants to keep them out.
Hopefully, in the future, more female players will manage to fight their way to the top and Geguri won’t remain the only female player for too long – it would be great to see esports realize its potential for true equality soon.