The South Korean based International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) stirred up controversy over gender-equality earlier this week with their announcement that an upcoming Hearthstone competition would be a male-only event.
In a recent announcement on their official facebook page, they have since reversed the statement, saying:
Our reason for maintaining events for women only is that we acknowledge the importance of providing women with ample opportunities to compete in e-Sports,
a currently male-dominated industry. Without efforts to improve female representation in e-Sports events, we can’t achieve true gender equality.
However, we realize that hosting a “male-only” competition is not the right way to go – as we stated, the industry is already male-dominated.
The fact that a female-only competition is being held for the reason stated above doesn’t mean that there is need to define the main competitions as “male-only”.
Therefore, we have decided to remove “male-only” competitions. This means the upcoming IeSF World Championship will host tournaments in 2 sections:
an “open-for-all” section which is open for all genders (replacing men-only competitions), and a female-only tournaments as stated previously.
Though it appears that they have made a 180, some netizens are still unhappy with set-up:
But amidst the anger at IsEF for their Little Rascals-like thinking, there are some unpopular facts that support may lend support to their decision. Although Jason Schreier over at Kotaku may say, “there is nothing about games like Hearthstone that would indicate that men and women play at different levels”, that is not entirely true. South Korea has a history of e-sports showing that women have not performed as well in mixed-gender tournaments going all the way back to the early days of Starcraft.
ToSsGirL is an excellent example of this. Until 2012, she was the only active female pro-gamer in the Starcraft scene, and her performance in the mixed gender scene rarely saw her pass the preliminary rounds. On the other hand, she dominated the female competitive scene, never losing a competition that she entered. So what does this mean for girls in e-sports?
Causal conclusions can’t really be drawn from the data. It’s just as likely that a lack of acceptance by the broader community affected her performance as it is that she was truly less skilled than her male counter parts. But whatever the reason, the pro-gaming scene in general has shown this pattern. And the truth is, ToSsGirL was much less likely to get noticed for her skill if there hadn’t been a females-only scene that she was dominating.
Even though women make up roughly 50% of gamers, they represent less than 10% of the professional competitive scene. Though the reasons for this are likely to include the sexist nature of competitive scene among other things, the point remains that until a stronger female scene is fostered, partitioning the competition in genders may very well be the best way to ensure that girl gamers get some of the spotlight.
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