Competitive gaming void of women

I recently came across a statistic that stated that 90% of League of Legends’ player base is male. This stat shocked me. Unlike MMO’s where the spread between men and women is fairly equal, and gaming in general is shared fairly equally between the sexes (with huge contingent of women playing social and mobile games), the world’s most popular competitive game, League of Legends with its’ 32 million active player base appears to be dominated by men.

Though, I really shouldn’t be surprised, given that competitive gaming or more specifically e-sports in general is commanded by males. I cannot recall seeing a single female competitor in any Starcraft, Warcraft arenas, or League of Legend tournaments. I would wager that e-sports is 99% male.

So what is it about competitive gaming that attracts men, or more appropriately repels women?

Let me state first that I fit into the 10%, alongside a few of my female friends who play MOBA’s. So in my circle, I see quite a few women who play (however religiously/or not) competitive games. I assumed that more women played League as well. Turns out, that number is small. But why is that?

Do women dislike competition? I hardly believe this could be true.  I would beg to think that many women enjoy competition just as much as men. Women like to win in games (in general) just as much as men. Women enjoy challenging others in various forms of competition, be it games, business, sports. There are plenty of social games that duke players against each other, and women love them!

I believe that in fact, it’s not competition that is the turn off because women do enjoy competition. I think it’s the culture of competitive gaming that makes the space so unappealing for women. Competitive gaming in League of Legends, for example, is like a school yard fight between rabid 13 yr old boys. The culture is mean, toxic, and ever so immature. Women generally like the social elements of games, and although League is inherently social, its player base do not practice good social conduct, thus making the social experience one not of friendly competition, but one ripe with adolescent-like hostility.

In fact, there’s almost a frat-boy-esque aesthetic to competitive games that make games of this sort so divisive. Competitive games, whether FPS or MOBA’s all seem to have a macho-ism built into them. Take Team Fortress 2 for example, where are the female characters? Although TF2 is fairly popular with women, thanks to it’s lighter hearted aesthetic and premise, it still tailors itself to the masculine, with masculine characters, story lines, jokes, and aesthetics. And to survive and enjoy the interaction of a competitive game like League, one has to pretty much opt into the fraternity of male adolescence.

So to ask, why do women not play competitive games? The answer might just be that these games were never created to be inclusive to begin with. The idea of fighting against an opponent is viewed as an inherently masculine form of interaction, even when the assumption is misguided. This mixed with characterization which hyper-sexualizes women (if there are women characters at all!) to the point of perversion (League does this exceptionally well), or negating women characters altogether (ie: TF2) make these games specifically tailored to the male psyche.

Women would play competitive games if we were considered viable players in the genre. But we are not. Competition is not the deterrent. It’s the culture of competitive games that is so repulsive.

Until competitive games can tap into a more collective gaming experience, where name calling, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse are not the staple of the genre, women will find little place in it.

Conversely, I would like to say that girls and women, in general, are not taught to be competitive the same ways boys and men are. Competitiveness is often associated with aggressiveness, which is a trait lauded amongst boys but criticized in women. Yet competition does not have to come with it a malign aggressiveness. Promoting healthy competition in girls and women is positive, yet often women shy from such experiences because competition is not practiced “feminine” conduct.

I advocate for a more balanced approach to competitive games because I think competitive games can be incredibly rewarding and fun. League of Legends has impeccable game play, but its culture is horrid. FPS as a genre of game is exceptionally fun, but it’s aesthetic and culture of abuse is rampant. I wish the culture of competitive gaming was more inclusive, because as a woman who plays these games, I’d like to feel like my fellow players (women and men) can interact and enjoy awesome games together. At the moment, that’s just not true. And to me, that’s a failure of the games industry and community. We can do better.

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