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Redeye: Poorly constructed BBC article about sexism in esports does more harm than good

If you’ve followed this column throughout 2016, you’ll know I’ve had a difficult time with some of the mainstream press reporting on esports — especially those who show themselves as out of touch or even resistant to the industry growth we have had, choosing to focus on some of the (inevitable) negative issues we’ve faced as we’ve grown. Yesterday, however, the BBC just won the award for most ridiculous piece about esports in 2016.

The topic they chose to put forward to their mainstream audience wasn’t how glorious our industry is, how it’s grown or how much money is now available to young people — not just players, but journalists, broadcasters, admins, PR managers, photographers, lawyers, human resource operatives and a whole plethora of job roles that come with a burgeoning industry. They chose not to focus on successful broadcasting on TV either or the fact we are regularly, most weekends, packing out stadiums that sports teams find hard to do.

No, instead they chose sexism in esports (or, as they called it, e-sports). It’s a topic more than worthy of discussion. There are countless victims of it, and I’ll happily stamp on anyone who says it’s “OK.” So while I wasn’t best pleased that the BBC once again decide to focus on something thorny in esports, I was pleased they had at least raised the subject, and I looked forward to seeing the issues laid out properly and arguments for and against for improvement in this regard.

What I got, however, was a monstrosity so gross, it may well end up doing more harm than good. The “facts” (let’s loosely call them that for now) were horrifically wrong. Perhaps the worst of all, “Twitch, the gaming streaming site owned by YouTube,” being almost comical by the time you’ve waded through the thousand words of complete rubbish. I’ve no idea where they get the figures regarding equality of pay, claiming at one point via a graphic that men get paid a high of $2.6 million a year compared to the top female earner getting $156,000 (which also changes in the text compared to the caption).


The small saving graces come from two women I have the utmost respect for, Stephanie Harvey and Julia Kiran, but even here knowing both as I do, I can’t help feel the BBC have chosen to use only selective quotes to make their (very poorly constructed) case for rampant misogyny in esports.

From the start, the nonsense is apparent.

“Very few women enter the world of professional gaming, and those that do often face harassment and a huge gender pay gap.”

Well, OK. It’s true, no doubt, very few women enter esports professionally, but it’s not always as a result of harassment. Why couldn’t the BBC support a more in-depth look at this critical issue instead of just brushing it off as “harassment is the cause.” I also have issue with “huge gender pay gap.” There is no pay gap as such because what the BBC used here is prize money. That’s not pay. That’s competitive prize money earnings, which is directly related to competition. It’s absolutely true that female gamers don’t have enough female tournaments, and those they have offer substantially smaller prize funds. But that’s not a gender pay gap; it’s far more complicated.

Even Julia, Steph and many others I’ve spoken to about female-only tournaments agree that they can do more harm than good. Personally, I am in favor of female-only tournaments, at least for now, because otherwise women have very little chance to gain the experience they need of playing in large-scale tournaments. You may argue, if they were good enough, they could play in the majors and that’s a fair point, but it’s not all down to natural ability. It’s about training facilities, full-time player roles (most women are part time due to needing to pay their bills with a real life job!), practice houses, time to scrim together, training, coaching and many other nuances that all go together to make the top professional esports players, regardless of gender. Women right now do not have all of these resources open to them. Is it any wonder they can’t compete at a Major standard yet?

So for now, tournaments would help female players to grow, but eventually my hope is that we can all compete together, regardless of gender.

Back to the story, though. The BBC didn’t really explore any of this, just painted our industry as a bunch of misogynists.

“On Monday the e-sports industry awards take place in London to applaud the top players in the business but not one female player has been nominated.”

Well, technically no female players were nominated, it’s true, but it also failed to mention the five women nominated in different categories for the awards (Editor’s note: Paul is a finalist for one of the awards and has also worked behind the scenes in putting together the awards show).

Perhaps this didn’t fit its narrative of proving how misogynistic we all are. Could we have more? Sure. But remember the nominations were open to anyone who wanted to nominate someone in the categories. Completely open. I’m sure had a woman been part of the winning League of Legends World final or had played in a Major she may well have been nominated by at least one of the 7 billion people on the planet.

“Unlike in traditional sport, physical advantages in e-sports are non-existent yet the most popular games are still overwhelmingly played by men.”

So this one is actually not true. The split among gender for those playing games is fairly even, perhaps even with a slightly higher percentage of women playing games in the USA than men. Again, why couldn’t the BBC have pointed this out?

“Recent research by the Pew Center shows men and women are equally likely to say they play video games but men are twice as likely to consider themselves ‘gamers’. It is when gaming becomes competitive that the number of women playing drops dramatically.”

Seriously, what the actual fuck does this mean? Fewer women are competitive? I’m fairly sure whether someone considers themselves a “gamer” or not has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Are there fewer women in esports? Absolutely. But I’m fairly sure it has nothing to do with women not being competitive.

“Online abuse has been prevalent in the gaming community for years.”

Arguable, perhaps, that it has been prevalent, but let’s for arguments sake agree with the BBC. Again, they used gaming, not esports, but used it to help the narrative. Remember, everyone in esports is a misogynist, after all. The BBC said so, so it must be true.

One of the quotes used from Julia is also a little confusing. “It would be cool to see something that male and females are working together on.” Didn’t Julia play in the PGL tournament with men earlier this year? And from memory, did very well too. There has also been a mixed Counter-Strike tournament in 2016 too.

It’s true, it would be great to see more women in esports and more competing at the big tournaments too, but without being rude, if they are good enough, they already can. There are no rules in place to stop mixed gender teams or even all female teams from competing in any tournament, save for the idiots at IeSF who banned women from competing in Hearthstone, and even then it got reversed thanks to a great community push to do so — many of the protestors being men of course. Again, didn’t see any of that mentioned in the article.

“Female tournaments have led to a big disparity in earnings between male and female players.”

Wait, what? So you blame female-only tournaments for the earnings gap now? Again, it’s prize money. Not pay. And I don’t see how it’s the fault of female-only tournaments

either. This is nonsensical.

“Steph hopes that big companies support female tournaments and female players, ‘because in the end you need money to compete but ultimately the goal is that these female tournaments don’t exist anymore, because there’s no need for it.’”

See. Even Steph says it.

“Twitch, the gaming streaming site owned by YouTube”

Yeah, at this point, well, fuck.

Well, we had to wait until the last paragraph, but here it is from Steph. “‘They focus on spacial awareness and reflexes, skills often stronger for men,’” Steph says.” But no, let’s start the entire article off with a bunch of lies and extremes. This piece of information is buried at the end. Yet, despite the lack of physical requirements for esports, what Steph says here plays a crucial role in recognizing why we are where we are.

While I have mocked the BBC throughout this article (and they deserve it), the actual issue is a serious one and one I don’t want to make light of. It’s a complex issue, gender division in esports, and should be treated as such. But it should not passed off as a bunch of backroom boys who decided they didn’t like women playing games, which is most definitely how this BBC piece comes across. In my humble opinion, an open debate and regular ongoing discussion is useful about gender division in esports, but articles like this do more harm than good.

Steph is someone I admire and respect immensely, alongside a whole host of other women in esports who are out there competing and winning when given the chance. Steph and Julia have done amazing things for women in gaming already and will continue to do so. They are inspiring for any women who want to get into esports — complete role models. They are both immensely passionate about levelling the playing field and getting more women interested in esports, but I feel like the BBC has done them both a disservice with this article.

None of those who I speak to about these issues ever wants a helping hand or to be treated differently — just fairly. I won’t pretend to understand all of the issues, either, or come close to knowing how Steph or Julia feel about the abuse they suffer on a regular basis, and it’s absolutely not right. We have to educate people on why it isn’t right, too, even if to most sane people it’s obvious. But let’s not let mainstream press demonize esports just because they don’t understand it.

Just so it’s clear, this isn’t bashing women in gaming or esports and my position has always been one of support to female gamers. It’s purely bashing the BBC for a terrible article that helps no one.

It’s a real shame that this article is so poor. Not least because the title suggests it is celebrating 100 great women in 2016, yet for all that, where is the mention of either Steph’s or Julia’s achievements, not just this year, but over the last decade or more? Where is the mention of the positive aspects of their involvement in esports? Why couldn’t it focus on the two women in question specifically instead of coming up with half-baked accusations, poorly constructed arguments and exceptionally poorly researched “facts”?

Perhaps the one thing this article may just give us is a healthy discussion on gender issues in esports and if it does that, I guess it was worth wading through the worst article on esports this year.