How to Make eSports Open to Everyone

Spawned by this article from Kotaku last week, the numerous posts online that provide little to no solutions, and a friend's comment on the absurdity of one gamer exclaiming that women don't join eSports because they play "support characters" (unfortunately that person deleted their comment, but hopefully the internet will post a screenshot of it!), today's topic is about women in eSports. Specifically what we as a community, and event organizers, can do to encourage more people to game. Men. Women. Black. White. Transgender. Gay. Straight. Muslim. Catholic. There should be no barriers to gaming. What you play and how you play does not matter.

With the growth of eSports and gaming competitions, the incredible lack of diversity is discouraging. Not only in gender, but in race, sexual orientation, religion, you name it. As much as I enjoy watching the Overwatch League, now that some of the toxic players have been kicked, it's noticeable the lack of representation. As someone who has been on the competitive scene in the past, I know it's not because "female gamers don't exist." It's because we are pushed away early on from eSports that we have no invested interest.

eSports is still very much a "male" zone - not much different from most U.S. based sports or Futball. As much as women and the LGBTQ community try to break in, we're met with obstacles that prevent us from pushing forward:

- Abusive behavior from other gamers, typically verbal but sometimes physical.
- Shaming for our bodies because we are not "male."
- Stalking, doxxing, and "raids" with the intent to intimidate.

I'm only scratching the surface. The amount of mental fortitude one needs to break into eSports as a non-male white or Asian gamer is exhausting. And when you're cornered and harassed at every turn for simply being in a gaming space (because yes, this does happen even if you haven't seen it or experienced it - I've been harassed for attending an eSports event that I wanted to watch and wasn't competing in), more people see eSports and competitions as an impossible barrier to approach.

So today's post is addressed to all gamers on what we can do to make eSports more inviting to everyone.

First off, we need to start posting very clear rules on what is and is not acceptable behavior at an event and enforce them. If someone breaks a rule, they are disqualified. Harassment, smack talk, teabagging, inappropriate physical contact - this is just the beginning. But you'll find that very few competition spaces and eSports events have these rules in place. I know most people will shrug it off as part of the "gaming" lifestyle, but why does it have to be? No one likes it. No one "enjoys" being verbally degraded for their looks, gender, lifestyle, or how they play. So why does it have to be normal when you don't see it in other types of contests?

At the cosplay contests I help manage, we have very clear rules regarding sportsmanship and harassment. If you badmouth another competitor at one of my events you are immediately escorted out. No exceptions. It's not only poor sportsmanship to act in such a way, it reflects on you the type of person that you are. Do you really want to tell the world that you harass women for playing a video game? Probably not. If you are expected to act a certain way for kindergarten basketball games, then competing in eSports should be no different.

Next, provide security. They will not only help enforce the rules but ensure people don't act out of line. The presence of some form of authority or police is enough. And if you're thinking that events already provide this, they don't. You'll find most conventions down to the local gaming shop have no form of security on hand for video game events. People will feel more comfortable knowing that if a problem comes up, there is someone there to take care of it. And if attendees don't feel comfortable at your event, they won't return. It is that simple. If your event can't afford security, reach out to local gaming groups that have a good reputation for providing safe spaces so that help is available. And yes, those groups do exist. You have to do some research but they are there.

Don't mitigate or trivialize someone's past experience at gaming events. While you may not have experienced some form of harassment or hate, others may have. Because it didn't happen to you doesn't mean it won't happen or that it hasn't happen to others. Whether you are organizing a gaming event or attending one, be mindful of people's concerns. Listen to what they have to say. Part of the issue I have faced and have seen others run into is that gamers at events won't listen to us. Instead they play the victim card or try to act as though they are better than those around them. "It wasn't me. I didn't do it. So don't complain." or "Well that's how it is, and if you can't handle it than leave." We need to address the problems head on in order for gaming to grow. Not toss them aside and pretend they don't exist.

Make gaming events more official. While the small gaming shops for one time tournaments are fine, the fact that there is still no "official" Smash Bros. event by Nintendo is astounding. A game that has long been on the circuit and yet no backing from the maker. The more official the tournament, the more likely the rules will be enforced and people are willing to join. POC, women, LGBTQ, etc. we're more apt to play in tournaments if we feel they are being held to a standard that allows us to join and feel safe. We don't feel safe at local gaming shops. But we feel safe when we know officials are there.

Don't discourage open dialogue about sexism and harassment in gaming. We need to talk about these issues if we're going to see any improvement in our community. It's perfectly fine to hold panels with gaming pros, experts in gender dynamics, and what-not to talk about these issues. It should be noted that your panel should be diverse. If you hold a panel on sexism in gaming and it's 4 straight white men at the head of the table, no one is going to take it seriously.

Finally, gamers, call out those who are behaving badly. Ask them to stop and if they don't, report them. Don't let their actions and words slide by. We can be the change only if we act on it. And by acting I don't mean getting into a fist fight. Be a rational human being. Calmly explain why that person's actions are wrong. What they can do to correct their behavior. And lead by example.


  1. I don't even pay attention to eSports and I never will until I start to see more female gamers get some recognition in it. Ever seen that TED Talk where a female Asian gamer talks about her experience receiving sexual harassment in the competitive community? I may not be a professional competitive gamer but I agree that this needs to be a more welcoming community for everyone regardless of gender and race.

    1. Thank you Emily for your comment!

      I have seen the TED Talk your referring to. She's posted a few of her experiences online and it can be a kick in the gut. This crap still happens! Constantly! In spite of the growth of gaming and more moderated events, the harassment is still there. We need to be more inclusive and welcoming for gaming to grow.

      For those interested, here is a clip from the speaker Emily referred to - Lilian Chen aka "milktea":


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