Gender Stereotypes in Esports

Gender Differences in Esports

The "gamer" stereotype of video gamers being violent, lonely, or lazy has started to be debunked. Instead of video games getting in the way of "real life," people who play video games have a chance to turn their skills into an all-out profession.

Not only is it possible to make money playing video games, either in competitions or by streaming the experience for others to watch, the wide world of esports seems to be going strong. Having launched in 2006, the esports industry grew to over $900 million in 2018 and 29% of fans between the ages of 13 and 40 only started watching televised tournaments in 2017.

Although esports is rapidly gaining exposure, representation of women within the industry isn't up to speed. With little representation in the world of professional gaming, is it that gaming as a whole isn't appealing to women, or is it something more complex? To learn more, we analyzed the top 500 esports champion earners, the 25 most-followed male and female Twitch streamers, and the responses of 388 female gamers to understand the great gender divide in the video game community. Read on to see what we uncovered.

High Rollers

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If anyone ever told you being exceptionally skilled at games like "Madden" or "Mario Kart" would never help pay the bills, they'd be dead wrong.

In reality, professional gamers don't even have to be exceptionally skilled at any given game to turn it into a serious side hustle or even a full-time gig. Players can earn real money by streaming their game feeds, hosting their own esports games, or betting on video games (not unlike live-action sports). But if you want to make the big bucks, championship gaming has the prizes to be won.

While different championship titles will net different levels of cash prizes for players, one tournament, Epic Games' "Fortnite," boasted $100 million in prize pools during the 2018-19 season. Before that, it was Valve's "Dota 2" championship that held the title for the highest prize pot of all-time, nearly $38 million.

With so much money on the line, it's no wonder players are willing to prepare both mentally and physically for a shot at the big bucks. For female gamers, there's only one problem: They don't earn nearly as much, on average. Among the 500 highest overall earners in esports championships, only one woman earned a ranking spot. Scarlett, the first female winner of "Starcraft 2" and member of the transgender community, has earned more than $296,000 in championship prizes. In comparison, players like KuroKy, N0tail, and Miracle- have all earned at least $3.7 million in championship cash, led by KuroKy at $4.1 million.

To make the pay gap even larger, when the players are ranked by earnings regardless of gender, Scarlett (whose real name is Sasha Hostyn) doesn't show up until rank 301. While there aren't typically rules stopping championship teams from incorporating women into their ranks, their inclusion still seems discouraged. Managers of some teams worry bringing a woman onboard will be seen as a "PR stunt," while others have suggested drafting a female player isn't always just about her skills in the game.

Building an Audience

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Playing video games may be fun, but there are millions of people who think watching other people play video games has its merits too. With nearly a million viewers at any given point, Amazon's Twitch service gets as much (or more) of an audience as nationally broadcasted channels like CNN or MSNBC.

With major video game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox supporting Twitch streaming, the free-to-use platform only continues to grow for both viewers and broadcasters alike. And why not? With built-in ads and the potential for sponsorships, playing video games for an audience can earn you more than a reputation — it could be a major payday.

But just because it sounds easy doesn't mean it is. Some players go months or even years broadcasting to absolutely no one in an effort to build an audience, and viewers may not see male and female Twitch streams in the same light.

Streamers like Ninja (nearly 12.9 million followers), shroud (5.1 million), Tfue (4.2 million), and summit1g (nearly 3.5 million) significantly outrank the most popular female channels — pokimane and KittyPlays — who have 2.7 and 1 million followers, respectively. Ninja and shroud alone have accumulated more followers than the 25 most popular female streamers combined. Ninja (whose real name is Tyler Blevins) currently earns more than $500,000 a month playing "Fortnite" for his millions of fans. Shroud quit playing "Counter-Strike" professionally to stream full-time and has been estimated to earn $100,000 a month doing it. In 2018, Ninja faced criticism for admitting he deliberately doesn't play with female gamers on his Twitch channel, though later attempted to clarify that decision was made out of respect to his wife.

The Gender Divide

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While there's a chance women aren't as interested in professional gaming and online streaming as men, there may be more to the story. Of the more than 380 female gamers we polled, 57% admitted to experiencing harassment while playing video games after revealing their gender.

Even at young ages, female gamers are sometimes instructed to conceal their true identity from other players to avoid verbal and emotional harassment that they either aren't as good as male players or don't deserve to play in the first place. As we found, sexist comments (53%), insulting comments about their skills (45%), and profane language (41%) were often among the most common forms of harassment directed toward the female players we polled.

So what choice do female players have to avert offensive attacks? Nearly 3 in 4 block or mute toxic players, while others avoid verbal or visual communication with other players (70% and 57%, respectively) or opt for gender-neutral screen names (50%) to hide their identity. In some cases, video game harassment can take a tragic turn. In 2018, 25-year-old gamer Tyler Barriss plead guilty to "swatting" a fellow player, which resulted in a young man's death. Swatting is the ongoing "prank" of calling the police on a fellow player and falsely accusing them of various types of criminal activity. Designed to draw the police into their homes, sometimes live and on-camera if the targeted player is an online streamer, swatting has become a dangerous and even deadly form of video game harassment.

Changing the Culture

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The video game community still has a long way to go in the way it integrates and treats female players. Women who play video games competitively or professionally often describe not feeling welcome or respected by their male counterparts. And if those issues aren't addressed, the presence of harassment may quickly grow into an emotionally abusive environment.

More than 1 in 4 female gamers said they'd been accused of hacking or cheating after revealing their gender online, more than half were asked for sexual favors, and over 2 in 3 considered withdrawing from a gaming session.

So what can be done about it? According to women surveyed, 71% believed the video game developers should be responsible for reducing the level of harassment present in online play, but only time will tell how seriously they take charge.

The Evolution of Gaming

The community of people who play video games is evolving, and the industry is changing with it. What once might have been seen as a more solitary experience has grown into a new world of players and spectators who've transformed the act of gaming into a professional experience. Players now have the chance to compete in global competitions worth millions of dollars in cash prizes and sponsorships.

And while many of the stigmas surrounding video games have fallen away, one major blemish remains: Women and girls who play video games still experience harassment and bullying on a wide scale. A majority of the female gamers we surveyed acknowledged feeling harassed in some way once other players realized their gender and, for many, that harassment involved sexist comments and profane language. Research shows encouraging young girls to play games can be good for their development, and some indie game developers specifically are working to change the culture of harassment and bias against female gamers from the ground up.

Methodology and Limitations

We collected data from esportsearnings.com on competitive esports players' overall monetary earnings on Jan. 4, 2019. Additionally, Twitch follower counts were pulled from sullygnome.com on Jan. 4, 2019. Only male- and female-run Twitch channels were included in this study. Channels owned and operated by radio stations, esports teams, or video game developers (Riot Games, for example) were excluded from the follower count ranking. A limitation of this data is that follower counts and overall earnings could have changed from the dates they were pulled, which could affect the rankings of the top esports earners and most Twitch streamers.

To measure the frequency and severity of harassment in online gameplay, we surveyed 388 female gamers via Prolific.ac. To qualify for the survey, participants must have been female and played an average of six or more hours of video games per week. To ensure the accuracy of this data, participants were disqualified if they failed to answer an attention-check question correctly. The main limitation among the survey results presented is that the data relies on self report. Self-reported data is subject to several issues which include, but are not limited to: exaggeration, telescoping, and selective memory. Claims made in this study have not been tested for statistical significance and are based on means alone.

Sources

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