Overwatch as a game has been held up as the gold standard in inclusive representations in video games. The cast of Overwatch is incredibly diverse, and represents a wide range of ethnicities, genders, abilities, and sexualities. Through their game, Blizzard messages that all are welcome. The same can’t be said with the accompanying Esports league, Overwatch League. The Overwatch League is not inclusive in the slightest.
Every single American broadcast caster and desk analyst other than Soe Gschwind is a man. Other than Soe, not a single woman serves as an OWL analyst. Yes, there is Emily Tang and Mica Burton who conduct some interviews, but as far as female representation in Overwatch League commentary there are 12 men and one woman.
Shanghai Dragons player Kim “Geguri” Se-Yeon is the only female Overwatch League player, and the league launched without her to the dismay of many Overwatch fans. Considering she was the best in the world, it’s hard to not get the impression that OWL may have some issues with sexism and gender representation.
Out of around 240 OWL players, only one of them is a female and 239 or so are men.
It’s time for a discussion about equity in Overwatch, because despite the opinion of many male gamers, women are not naturally worse at games, they just don’t get hired.
Some have argued that the reason why there are fewer women in gaming is because gaming is just a male dominated discipline. Frankly, the numbers show that this is not the case. Let us do away with the myth that gaming is for boys. The esports female demographic is growing rapidly, despite the targeted exclusion of female gamers from spaces like Twitch.
In the past few years, women’s participation as players and watchers in competitive gaming has skyrocketed.
Women make up a large and silenced segment of the esports audience.
According to a Nielsen report , women make up as high as 25% of esports viewership.
Another showed that women make up 30% of esports watchers. Women represent as high as 35% of esports game players. If women already make up a third of esports viewership now, why don’t we see women commentating American Overwatch League broadcasts or playing in the games? Women are a large and growing demographic, so this begs the question: Why aren’t women being hired by esports organizations?
A Variety article published in 2018 reported a comment from Jordan Sherman, Gen. G’s head of partnerships regarding female players. He said:
“We started looking at the female players and noticing that they were just as good, if not better, than the male players. But no female players were really given the opportunity to come into a professional environment and play competitively as part of an organization.”
In spite of women having equivalent ability, we see a 239:1 ratio of men to women in the Overwatch League. The only Overwatch pro who is a female was opposed time and again by other players, and was eventually rejected from even playing in the Overwatch League during the inaugural season.
Her story is a great case study in how women are pushed out of professional gaming. Women face sexist attacks in online chats and they face significant attacks on their credibility constantly.
Plenty of women gamers have the skills. They just aren’t being rewarded for them.
After the release of Overwatch, Geguri had an 80% win rate playing as primarily Zarya. Rather than celebrating her skills, many people — including professional gamers — accused her of cheating. She showed herself playing live to prove the haters wrong, but the point is that she shouldn’t have to deal with unwarranted accusations of cheating.
Despite Geguri’s dominance, Overwatch League launched without her. When managers were asked why they hired a progressive zero women the first year — and specifically why they didn’t hire Geguri — they had very weak excuses .
The Houston Outlaws’ general manager Matt Rodriguez argued that they couldn’t hire a woman because it would be a “PR stunt,” despite Se Yeon being one of the best Overwatch players ever. Other teams argued that because she was Korean there would be a language barrier, or that they didn’t want to deal with co-ed housing arrangements. Not wanting to deal in co-ed housing arrangements is an explicit promise to never hire women. How is that not sexist?
Eventually Shanghai Dragons picked Geguri up, but since then there haven’t been any more women added to OWL rosters.
This stubborn refusal to hire women is a really bad look.
Overwatch League does, to be fair, have many wonderful women behind the scenes . However, there is still only one female player total and no female casters for the American broadcast. It feels unnatural for women to be entirely excluded from a supposedly co-ed space, especially with so many female fans watching.
A 12:1 ratio of men to women analysts feels purposefully male focused. Regardless of the excuses of owners and managers, a 239:1 ratio of men to women players definitely implies some level of sexist discrimination. Equity is key to making women feel more comfortable in esports spaces, which have traditionally sought to exclude women. Equity is also key to building a larger demographic of women who are passionate about gaming and Overwatch. Including women is not a big demand — it’s a request to address the gap between the number of women watching and women allowed to participate.
I am not asking for special treatment for women. I am asking to end the special treatment for men. Hiring a woman is not a “PR stunt.” It’s a normal thing to do. No one is demanding a 50/50 ratio necessarily, just that women not be excluded on the basis of their gender. I really don’t think it’s all that much to ask.
It’s time for the Overwatch League to hire more women.