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Gender Segregation Doesn’t Fit Into Esports

I’m going to break this down into a logical affair. Anyone could easily make an emotional rant, stemming from a personal place, over yesterday’s Hearthstone news. Reason has more merit, however, and nothing holds up as much water as the concrete information out there showing there is no reason to segregate eSports.

In context, I should explain that the Finnish Assembly for the Summer 2014 Hearthstone International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) Qualifier declared it would not allow women to participate in the tournament. There’s little use pointing the finger at the Finns, because their restriction is to avoid conflict with the international rules of the tournament, which state women and men must compete is separate leagues. It would cause all kinds of confusion were a woman to win the Finnish tournament, only to be told she is barred from progressing to the international stage. In a happier ending, Blizzard came forward against the scandal, spawning an emergency meeting of the IeSF board that ultimately repealed the separation mandates.


Blizzard

Plus one for you guys.

Because this controversy lit a vigorous internet mosh pit, we’re going to break down 2 reasons officially cited from the Finnish commission as the logical basis to these kinds of regulations. Let’s start with the second:

“2 – International standards. IeSF is very close to get eSports recognised as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues.”

Simplified, it says “our gender segregation is the outcome of eSports trying to mimic other sports, so that people will accept its legitimacy.” On some level, these goals were ultimately set so eSports could be admitted to the Olympics, which requires gender separation. 

Problem: you cannot and should not model a gaming league after other sports, because gaming is not like other sports. Gaming is all-inclusive, encouraging all genders and ages alike to join its community. More importantly, gaming is a playing field naturally leveled for men and women.

Success in physical sports is very dependent on gender-influenced factors, such as strength and build. The purposes of gender separation in these other sports is to resolve the physiological differences between men and women. eSports sees these regulations, and blindly cites them as precedent, overlooking one critical factor: there is no natural difference between women and men in gaming. A women and a man have an equal capacity for gaming skill beginning at birth and continuing every moment after. How many individuals of a gender population go on to improve in that field, the number of those that pursue a gaming specialization, is the source of gaming’s gender skew. Neither side actually has an advantage or disadvantage because of their gender. If you understand that, every reason behind eSports gender segregation falls flat on its face.

Hearthstone

Gender couldn’t be less relevant here.

Looking at Hearthstone, we could not find an aspect deficient in females compared to males. Arguments over reflexes and hand-eye coordination, which have been found to not depend on gender, aren’t even in play here. Success in Hearthstone comes from applying tactical cognitive skill to a card game. Cognition, as the IeSF must realize, does not differ in the genders.

Having examined “classic sports”, a status eSports is for some reason dying to acquire, we also need to address chess, the example specifically mentioned in the official statement. Competitive chess is gender segregated, is not a physical sport, and also relies on cognition. Many years ago, separation rules were set because there were so few female Grandmasters. eSports often sees this dated example, thinks it best not to challenge established traditions, and wishes to follow in the footsteps of the past. But many years ago a mistake was made. Chess should not be segregated any more than games should.

Twilight Chess

I’m contractually obligated to make one ridiculous Twilight reference a year. [Ed. note – It’s true. She is.]

You can take a look at this study, but in summation it says that the reason there are few top ranked females is because there are fewer female players. It’s statistically normal, given the percentage of players that make it to competitive level, that there are so few pro female players. Believing girls need some help because of the low percentage of female pro players is as logically vapid as looking at the bronze league, noting that there are significantly more males there than females, and concluding males need some help because they massively overpopulate the bottom skill level. If you look at the numbers, there’s no reason for alarm. The chess world raised the alarm though. Let’s not watch eSports do the same.

Overall, if you walk around citing other sports as your backup reasoning, you better understand that the logic behind their gender separation doesn’t apply well to eSports. Rather than follow past rules irrationally, eSports should embrace its gender neutral stage, and set an example for equality. It should push the Olympic committee to acknowledge equality in gaming, and carve new rules fit for this wonderfully unique and rapidly growing field.

League of Legends World Championships

Next, we’ll see why the first reason cited by the Finnish committee isn’t any more logical than their second:

“1 – promoting female players. We know that eSports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale.”

Okay, here we’ve moved away from trying to dress up like other sports so the cool people will like us. This reason focuses on “rounding out the professional demographic, because that will make girls around the world play more games.”

While this statement looks reasonable on the surface, it makes a claim about social science that, by the accepted standards of logic, would be laughable in any scientific community for its lack of evidence. You can’t say “segregation rules will make girls play more games” if you have no proof of the correlation. Nobody should, off-hand, believe there is a positive relation between forced female-only leagues and increased female desire to pursue gaming.

Izma Cat

This is science, laughing at you with equal parts cute and evil.

Now, I know what you’re saying: “But there aren’t many studies on this correlation, so we have to make inferences like these.” Well, sorry, but lack of available evidence doesn’t make this reasoning valid. It doesn’t make the statement less likely to be true, but it leaves the claim with little to garner it any earned acceptance.

The reason these statements looks so rational is because they sort of “seem” true by common sense. Maybe if there are more girls visible in the professional sphere, little females around the world will be inspired to pick up the controller. The issue is, we don’t actually know how effective that strategy will be. Step back from the fruity language for a second, and really think about what’s being suggested here. Segregation without reason (and we concluded earlier it has no reason), is a bad thing. Inequality is harmful, and the official implementation of it is not going to encourage equality. You can’t get equality through segregation. We figured out a long time ago separate but equal is usually not a thing (barring physical sports, and even that’s debated).

If you want to get to the root of the relatively weak female gaming community, it’s partly because society hands young girls barbies instead of Gameboys. It’s because there are “girl aisles” in toy stores that stock dolls and cooking stations framed with pink, while “boy aisles” are stocked with Pokémon figures and toy cars. It’s because none of my female friends in middle/high school played video games, and that was discouraging both practically and emotionally. These social factors affect every child, the majority of which aren’t watching eSports at these developmental ages.

Toy Store

Enforcing rules that logically imply inequality between the genders isn’t going to help gender-biased societal views towards gaming. eSports will separate girls and boys, fold to sporting regulations built for a different organization, and society is going to see segregation and the nonexistent skill gap it suggests. If a female league is officially created and enforced, the gender divide is established. Females will never be held to the same scale as men, in tournament and outside of it. The social consequences would be incredibly difficult to eradicate once wrongly endorsed. eSports gender segregation would be logically, socially, and psychologically a huge mistake.

Don’t try artificially fixing a demographic skewed by the very social mindset said actions would propagate.

It’s incredibly relieving to see Blizzard and the IeSF respond quickly to public outcry, but it’s still important to address these common arguments, as they are brought up time and time again. Gaming at its core is a great community, filled with camaraderie and fun. Let’s not watch it devolve into old traditions without taking a good hard look at the arguments for segregation.

If you have a reasonable counterargument, feel free to discuss it civilly. This is all in the interest of an open conversation, and a respectful, educated community.

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