Critical Analysis: Women and the Sociology of Esports

      In the world of competitive video gaming, or what is referred to as Esports, physical strength and endurance is not a factor. All that is required to become a professional Esports player is game knowledge, experience, and skill. With this in mind, one would assume that women and men would be on equal standing in terms of being able to compete against each other and also in terms of media coverage and representation. However, this is not the case. In order to further discuss these matters I will be relating to an article in Fortune Magazine written by John Gaudiosi called  “Intel and ESL Aim for More Women in Esports”. This article touches upon the current state of women in Esports and how one of the biggest Esports organizations, the Electronic Sports League or ESL, is introducing a diversity initiative to help “attract underrepresented members of competitive communities, such as women, LGBTQ participants, and people of color” Gaudiosi (2016). In this critical analysis I will attempt to bring forth and discuss the current issues relating to the topic of women in Esports, as well as relating them to the course content. I will also attempt to suggest possible ways to fix these issues.

      Gaudiosi reports that Intel and ESL have launched an initiative called “AnyKey”, which is a group that will support diversity in and around the competitive gaming industry. AnyKey focuses on compiling research about the issues that exist and then translating that research into solutions and strategies.  Last year, at the 2015 Intel Extreme Masters finals, Intel and ESL introduced the first “Intel Challenge Katowice, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament for women” Gaudiosi (2016). At first thought this might seem to be a step in the right direction, and although it is arguably a good thing for women in Esports, it may not be the right thing. This is poor solution to the problem of lack of equality within the Esports scene. Equality, according to Coakley & Donnelly (2009), is when everyone has the same opportunities, or same starting line. Men and women should be able to compete with and against each other and should be able to play on teams with mixed genders. In the act of running this women’s-only tournament, AnyKey is creating equity, which means to create conditions to compensate for lack of equality so that people have the same finishing line. In some cases equity can be helpful, but in this case, it is the exact opposite of what needs to be happening. 

      According to Stephanie Llamas, who is the “director of research and consumer insights at SuperData Research” Gaudiosi (2016), we should take a look at the WNBA and NBA as an instance where separating women and men from the same sport doesn’t work in terms of building more female interest in the sport. Even more so; however, should this not be done in Esports due to the fact that men and women are equally as capable when it comes to video games. There are no barriers of physicality and hormones certainly do not come into play. Women in Esports are often discouraged because of the lack of women who are shown within the Esports media and the professional scene. But what if these women, who are competing at the same level as their male counterparts, are integrated seamlessly into the professional scenes?  What if these women begin to replace men on some of the top teams in the world?  Don’t you think that would affect the general opinion on women in Esports? AnyKey is working towards a goal of equality, but they are trying to accomplish it by supplementing and creating equity. They need to realize that the only way to solve the issue is to involve women with the men at the pro level and to do everything they can to support them, because they will have to put up with a large amount of harassment from fans around the world.

      As mentioned in the article by Gaudiosi (2016), “U.S. Viewership of Esports gender distribution is 27% women versus 73% men.” With that many men as opposed to women watching Esports in the United States alone it will make it pretty hard for a woman to establish herself in the professional scene without support from powerful organizations and even the fans themselves. The gender ideology for video games has commonly been that boys play video games and girls do not. Although at one point in history this may have been semi-accurate, in today’s society, this isn’t the case. Women all around the world have shown interest in gaming and more specifically, competitive gaming. The problem is that the gender ideology hasn’t caught up to the way things are in society and there are many people out there, mainly male, who still seem to have views according to the old ideology. If we take a look at this issue from the perspective of critical theory, we can see that the video game and Esports sub-cultures have had different shared values in the past and these values and interests have changed over the course of time. These individuals who are sticking to the old values need to understand that these values are never permanent and that the world and society has changed since they originally began to form these ideologies.

      Eventually, as women in Esports continue to push past these obstacles, there will be a time where this problem will be solved. Females will have become a major part of the culture that makes up Esports, mainly by just competing at the same level and on the same stage, side by side, with the men of equal skill. This will encourage other females to express their interest and get involved in the scene because by this time it will have become a norm for women to be involved in Esports. This might relate to the concept of the “Sport ethic”, which, according to Coakley & Donnelly (2009), is “A set of norms accepted as the dominant criteria for defining what it means, in their social worlds, to be defined and accepted as an athlete in power and performance sports”. Now, Esports may not be a power and performance sport, but the concept can still apply here. This would be what I would refer to as the Esports ethic, which would be a set of norms that define what it means to be accepted as an Esports player.

      This article “Intel and ESL Aim for More Women in Esports” by John Gaudiosi brings to light what is being done by the organization AnyKey to help create a more approachable Esports scene for women. However, with knowledge of the Esports scene as well as the sociology of sports we are able to come to the conclusion that although this may be a step in the right direction, it is the wrong approach to achieve equality for women in Esports and is instead created equity by creating women-only competitions. In order to achieve true equality, women should be incorporated into the same games as the men and on the same stage as them both physically and within Esports media.


Coakley, J., & Donnelly, P. (2009). Sports in society: Issues and controversies (2nd Canadian Edition ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Gaudiosi, J. (2016, February 28). Intel and ESL Aim for More Women in eSports. FORTUNE. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from

Written by Dylan Didiano

Edited by Williaf

Featured Image provided by Revista Contextos

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