First Monday Panel on Sexism in the Esports Community

By Isabel Hicks 

Sexism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, online attacks, and not being taken seriously despite skill all contribute to a frustration shared by some women in the esports community. 

This was the theme that emerged during the latest First Monday talk about diversity, eqNewuity and inclusion — this time in esports, an organized competitive platform of online gaming that is officially recognized as a sport on many college campuses, including that of Colorado College. 

The panel discussion featured five women in leadership positions on their college esports teams. 

“Esports and gaming in general has been advertised as a male-dominated environment, even though a lot of female-identifying people like to play games,” said panelist Bella Yang, an esports leader on her campus at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. 

Panelists also discussed how just having a “female gendered” username can lead to other players questioning or blatantly ignoring instructions. Because of this, most of the leaders said they use commonly non-gendered usernames. 

Preconceptions about gaming — and who games — affect women who want to pursue professional esports careers, panelists said. 

“Why do I have to prove myself just because I’m not a guy?” asked panelist Emily Oeser, the captain of her college’s Overwatch team at the State University of New York at Canton. 

Another issue the panelists unpacked was how the perceptions of esports as a non-inclusive activity has barred some people who would otherwise be interested from entering the field. 

“It really does inhibit the community because it’s common in the media for the one ‘bad apple’ to get all of the attention,” said Lindsay Okonek, President of the esports club at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS). 

Okonek also expressed her frustrations at people who question the validity of her leadership because of her gender. When talking about her experience of becoming president of the esports club at UCCS, she noted that her teammates challenged her leadership “every single step of the way.” 

When her esports team was created, she explained, her teammates didn’t trust her. “They did not listen; they would rather listen to a ‘rando’ than their own captain.” 

The panelists also acknowledged that while the esports community has in the past been a petri dish for toxic masculinity and sexism, the culture is slowly becoming more accepting and progressive. 

Some colleges have started advertising female-only gaming spaces to offer a setting where women can be comfortable playing esports. “It’s our haven, our safe space,” said Oeser regarding her college’s women-only Overwatch team. 

Meanwhile, Twitch, a video live streaming service that most gamers use, has mechanisms in place where users can report others for discriminatory behavior, said the company’s creative strategist Alicen Lewis, who also appeared on the panel. The best way to fight back against people who engage in non-inclusive behavior, she said, is to report them. “Encouraging other people to report them can go a long way.” 

A widely criticized moment of the talk was one panelist’s answer to a question about how people of color fit into the esports community. The panelist’s answer seemed to affirm the issue of lack of inclusion in esports itself by saying, “My friend Juan, he’s from the Dominican Republic, and he talks really, really, really fast, so sometimes it’s hard to know what he’s saying … And it’s hard, kind of, but he doesn’t even realize it.” 

After the talk, Reilly Williams ’21, who is captain of the League of Legends team at CC, said that he “thought the failure of the panel to answer [the] question in a satisfying way was an accurate reflection of the lack of racial diversity specifically in PC gaming.” 

Williams also added that “[It is] important…we’re having these conversations at all.” Williams continued by saying “I really appreciate that the panelists were willing to share their experiences. Esports is a new industry and as a community we can shape how it develops through csonversations like these to make it a more inclusive space.” 

The panel about diversity and inclusion fits into the wider conversation of CC’s developing Antiracism Implementation Plan. However, even with this relevant theme, the talk had the lowest attendance rate of any First Monday talk this year. 

“[Esports] is a very niche topic that not many people know about,” said CC student Sada Rice ’22. “But I do think it’s important to examine diversity and inclusion in platforms you’re not super familiar with.” 

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