Women in esports: "Why is this even a thing?", and other white male questions

Hey, everyone. White male here, hopefully slightly less clueless than the average white male in terms of the issue at hand. Probably the bigger problem is that I’m entirely clueless about all sports, not just esports. So being a white dude on top of all that removes me even further from what I’d like to ask about.

But I just saw a press release announcing a Rocket League tournament for women, sponsored by a financial services company. Here’s their stated rationale:

I understand the bifurcation of non-esports by sex. I understand that women don’t generally have the upper body strength of men and therefore shouldn’t be playing football against them. I understand, too, that there are issues of body morphology that play into sports like swimming and automotive racing, and dividing the sexes arguably keeps the competition fair.

But Rocket League? A videogame about driving a virtual dune buggy into a virtual soccer ball to bump it into a virtual goal? Why would the sex of a competitor matter at all to the the outcome or the rules of the game?

So therefore, is an initiative like this because dudes are still being assholes to women and women feel the need to carve out their own spaces? Or is it because a financial company sees a way to burnish their image by appealing to a certain mentality? Or is there really some reason I don’t understand for dividing male and female players? Is it perhaps just a fun marketing angle, along the lines of “See the Ladies of Rocket League Battle It Out Against Each Other”, but with the more serious undercurrent of promoting diversity?

I know no one here knows the actual answer, but I would be curious to hear y’all’s thoughts. I’m as progressive as the rest of you, and I want to be supportive of something like this if it’s valuable. But I honestly don’t know whether it’s helpful or hurtful to be separating the sexes like this, or whether it’s even an issue anywhere but this one tournament, and I’m interested in hearing your opinions.

Yes and yes. Plus, “gamer girlz” appeal to the young male demographic.

Why is there still, in 2023, a Best Actor and Best Actress award? Because, historically, the best roles were written for men. If the awards weren’t bifurcated by sex, no woman before like 2000 would’ve ever won an Oscar.

I guess the idea is that sometimes you have to directly address these representational problems directly. I’m not sure it’s the right answer, but I also don’t have a better one.

It’s not just dudes being assholes individually. Female athletes are significantly underpaid compared to their male counterparts, even when they’re playing on similar levels with similar name recognition and appeal. This includes household names like Serena Williams. This appears to also be true in e-sports, no doubt buttressed by the shitty gamer-bro fandom demographics that make these spaces toxic in general.

There’s a self-sustaining cycle where male athletes get more attention, which means they get more sponsorships / promotion, which drives more recognition, which justifies more sponsorships. This can be true even in something like e-sports where men and women can compete against each other with no actual performance difference.

So, something like this is probably calling attention to female pros who can likely perform just as well and be just as entertaining as male athletes, but receive less promotion when competing in a co-ed tournament for primarily sexist reasons.

I immediately think of the all-female speed-run events run under the Frame Fatales banner, that function the same as many other charity speedrun events, but take the opportunity to highlight female runners who might not have an opportunity to be featured in other events, and can use the exposure to boost their reach and name recognition a bit.

So, mercenary corporate marketing interests, but also a way to expose more people to female athletes / runners who they might not have otherwise had a chance to encounter. I guess you could call it an affirmative action tournament, but that has derogatory connotations these days. You could also say that it’s combating institutional sexism in the gaming / esports industries.

I’d guess there are still more ‘men’ playing Rocket League than anybody else. So if this is about dividing money it totally makes sense to me to divide the money equally. Because that might lead to a growing number of competitive players who are not men. Once your groups are similar in size merge them again.

There are sex dependent brain differences that affect things like spatial visualization ability, and men have greater variability overall leading to them dominating high and low performance extremes.

The arguments for female eSports are similar to those for women’s chess.

There’s also a participation angle, for the best take on it read Stephen Jay Gould’s Full House. The essential point is that in any relatively new “sporting” endeavor where there is a curve of rising excellence among the participants is a factor, then you will see large gains during the early years and successively fewer gains or deviations from the average as the sport settles into a higher state of overall excellence among the competitors.

The clickbait sentence is “Why there will never be another 400 hitter in baseball.” Since the ruleset has barely changed and the equipment only a bit, and that the consistent mean of batter performance has held steady around . 300 or . 315 (don’t quote me on specifics, it’s been a while) for a century or so, it illustrates that as the general excellence of play has improved the tails of the distribution have narrowed, so you get fewer terrible batters and fewer exceptional batters, to the point that
.400 is no longer statistically achievable, the right tail of distribution has crept backwards beyond it.

Another example outside of humans, the Kentucky Derby. The fastest time was set decades ago, I think, and has settled there because we’ve been breeding and racing horses for millennia and there just isn’t that much left to discover. We’ve arrived a peak excellence in that particular discipline.

So how this relates to women in eSports isn’t necessarily an argument about theoretical genetic differences. It’s almost certainly about the available pool of participants such that the men, having a multiple of participants and years in the sport, have narrowed into a band of lower distribution. Women are newer and fewer, and this their distribution of excellence is both smaller and more broad by distribution. A women’s only league should display top performers that are as good as the top performers on the men’s, but fewer by per Capita because their statistical tails are longer in both directions. And, obviously, fewer participating overall.

For the best fit, he also points to marathon times. Men’s marathoning has been around a lot longer than women’s, stats-wise, and as the theory suggests their times show a much larger distribution along the performance curve, even when restricted to just female participants. Being newer on the scene means they are still in a period of honing down excellence among the top competitors to a possible performance peak and average.

Final point, that doesn’t mean that women marathoners will ever beat men marathoners. Then we’re back to inherent physiological differences that can’t really be overcome in a sport that is so sensitive to height, muscle to weight, etc. But eSports? I would expect eventually to see a lot more women, but not equal unless my perception of general participation, that more men want to try to participate in eSports. But we’ll see a similar distribution of rankings, ratings etc. between the two, per the overall population of participants.

Final note, one classic, seemingly correct, and thankfully non-insulting thing is that men score better on spatial puzzles and women on relational puzzles. I think I recall that works out to “where is it in the overall scene?” vs. “where is it in relation to other things in the scene?” There’s no “better” in that that I can discern, just different. But, during my brief foray working on a biology degree, a professor noted that they had run those same tests on multiple student classes and found no difference. The resulting theory was that at the higher level of selection that you would naturally get testing a STEM college sample, that overall difference disappeared. Thus, you can see certain things across the gross population that might have a dozen different causes, but once you narrow it down into a more refined example they can go away.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best…

“Through a new women’s tournament featuring Rocket League, Ally will continue to advance its 2022 pledge to reach 50/50 media spend across men’s and women’s sports, including esports.”

In Japan, board games tournaments, such as mahjong or go, are split between males and females, despite the popularity they can have in both sex, and although there are mixed (labelled as such) events, some safeguards are in place to ensure females never get the absolute best spot or can compete for them, beyond a respectual show of deference.

Maybe Rocket Leagues is thus, ironically, expecting to be real popular in some of the many misogynistic countries around the world?

A lot of your reasoning is why we’re making a huge effort to have parity in our male/female engineering staff (and we’re doing far better than the industry average, but are still “only” at 55/45.) If you have more examples of everyone being software engineers or e-sports experts, more people will follow in their footsteps.

If that requires making an effort now to even out inequities so there are equal candidate pools in 10-20 years, I’m cool with that.

One of the esports that I sometimes watch is League of Legends. They had a push for some all girl teams a while ago, but they then wound up playing some exhibition matches against non-pro male teams in pick up games and got absolutely trashed, and it went downhill quickly in the community. That team was a bit like a girl band though - mostly formed for the press and the memes, not for individual talent.

Looks like there’s a push for actual teams now in the sport:

I assume it’s like Chess, which has a seperate “women’s only league” because men still alpha dog dominate the “regular league” which is open to anyone. (that’s good of course)

Yes, and the level of harassment directed towards women in esports is the pairing of comments section hatred with microphones. A lot of times, you don’t really even get to play the game because your own teammates are working against you as well. This is just what I’ve observed while playing with friends. I’m sure a lifetime of bullshit comes with even bigger frustrations I haven’t witnessed.

So there’s the “We just want to play the game in peace” angle, and there’s also the “We want to grow the community” angle, which applies to women’s sports in other spaces. The pinball world is another example, which is kinda sorta an esport, where there are events for women for mostly the latter reason, but the former can still be relevant.

Exactly, it may not map well to immediate distributions, but it pushes the entire structure the right way.

Most definitely, yes. I don’t play Rocket League, but I do play League of Legends. “My team” is largely comprised of people who took shelter from asshats (and one high-level player who occasionally gets frustrated at taking the ELI5 approach to game strategies, but he’s really a big softie and is married to one of the others).

Also yes. I mean, they’re companies, which means dollar signs are always on their minds.

Not so much; hell is other people of the male gender the moment they realize they’re playing with a female. LoL is okay with moderating truly bad stuff, but . . . I’ve seen things good people wouldn’t believe; incels on fire in the team chats of PvP games. I watched girls and women glitter in the dark, hiding their identity to those who would think there’s something to gate. If only all those assholes would be lost in time, we’d just drink beers and game.

//apologies to Rutger Hauer

First point, not my reasoning, Stephen Jay Gould’s reasoning. I was just trying to bring in his way, way, way smarter take on a subject that seemed relevant. He’s one of my heroes so I’m obviously a hyper-biased source.

From my personal basis, I agree that building a structure where either gender can participate and breaking down barriers will result in a more equitable distribution. That isn’t to say that I necessarily think that there will always be a 50/50 distribution, I think that’s a bit reductive. As our various classes go, male/female is probably the strongest and least variable one, but I would also say there will never be a 50/50 distribution of, for instance, hod carriers. Some stuff just maps to gender and the variable advantages, each way. eSports, hell, who knows? It’s so new it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to find it dominated by women in ten years, same as it remaining being dominated by men.

I, too, wonder why esports are a thing.

Back in the SF4 era EVO did a womans tourney for that game. Won by Kayane,who got a top 8 10 yrs later I got 95th in same event.They did require entrants to enter the regular SF4 event.

It is hard for wimen, especially cis women, to deal with the toxicity of esports. Seen it firsthand with friends being ridiculed. If womens events and c ontrnt cstering to women help grow the pie, it’s awesome.

On a personal level, one of my truest inspirations in my own journey was a friend I met who beat me in a local. Her joy was sovgreat it moved me, and I felt happy for her si much it inspired me to start being me. That might not have happened if the SC community wasnt so inclusive.

I miss her she moved away a year ago. At least I could tell her what she meant to me before she left.

Not future proof, but there is an idea that women will always lose to men at the very highest levels of play due to myriad of factors even though it is still theoretically possible a women CAN win.

If it was a grass roots initiative, I’d say safe space and comradery. Since it is a business catering to this particular industry, straight up exploitation.

Everybody has their hill to die on, and mine is the way women are treated in this world. Thanks for opening the discussion.

Once again, I’ve come to the right place to ask a dumb question and I’ve learned a ton. Thanks for all the responses. You guys are great! And special mention to @Alstein for that short bit about your friend beating you at a local Street Fighter tourney. That’s the sort of immediate personal anecdote that will stick with me. Thank you.

Whoa. Talk about opening a whole new rabbit hole. That one never even occurred to me, but I can understand why it happens. On one hand, I want to be supportive. On the other hand, it seems like such a great loss that passionate people would be divided from each other according to their sex.

I wonder if this is culturally specific to Japan or Asia? For instance, contemporary boardgaming (as opposed to mahjong or go) has wide appeal in Germany as a family pursuit. I can’t imagine they would split any tournaments by sex.

Because I haven’t seen or experienced this firsthand – I don’t watch or participate in esports – I have a hard time accepting it as a given. I’m not saying I don’t believe it, just that it’s outrageous to me this would still be an ongoing thing. Not that boys can be assholes, but that the organizers and sponsors would tolerate it.

But then again I live in a state that hauled Activision into court for how they’ve treated women. I shouldn’t be surprised when game companies “let boys be boys”.