I’m surprised at how long it takes for some companies to learn that the internet is a thing now, and that a good action should be executed before fan or customer backlash forces them to. This is the case of the male-only championship policy of the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF), how it affected the actions of a Finnish qualifying tournament, and how the internet told them to knock that noise off.
Yesterday afternoon I read some disturbing details on the Hearthstone competition at the Finnish Assembly Summer 2014 eSports tournament coming up at the end of this month.
You had to have two things:
(1) Finnish citizenry
(2) A Y-chromosome
Yes you read that correctly – the Hearthstone tournament was classified as being for Finnish men only. So all those ladies with their two X chromosomes were asked to hit the bricks.
The winner of this tournament would qualify for the IeSF World Championships later this fall, where they will be representing Finland in the contest. So I get the part where you have to be a bona fide Finn to enter the digital ring here. But why – why why why in seven hells weren’t women allowed to play? It’s 2014, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.
PC Gamer, who picked up and later confirmed this information from a member of the Reddit Hearthstone community named Karuta, seemed to be wondering the same thing. So they asked Markus Koskivirta, the head admin for the Assembly Summer 2014 Hearthstone Qualifier:
“Your information is indeed correct, the tournament is open to Finnish male players only. In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation’s (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things.”
Oh. So that’s the issue. The IeSF championships are men only. So if a woman wins the Finnish tournament, then they wouldn’t be eligible to compete there. Further, according to the IeSF’s site and Facebook event page, the IeSF even went as far as to have different games for different genders at the worlds. Male competitors will be playing Hearthstone, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, and Ultra Street Fighter IV while the female competitors will be playing Starcraft 2 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. In this case, The organizers of Assembly Summer 2014 are doing it this way because of IeSF rules, and doing it under protest.
So to make it even worse, women were only to compete in 2 games at the championship level while the men’s division got 4. And not only that, but while they will both be playing Starcraft 2, it won’t be together.
Naturally this caused some waves in the gaming community, as it damn well should. A number of users took the IeSF to task on their Facebook page, and received some answers explanations thinly sliced excuses for those asking questions. Direct from their Facebook page:
“Let me elaborate a bit on the decision to create both male and female competitions. This decision serves two main goals of the IeSF:
1 – promoting female players. We know that e-Sports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale.
2 – International standards. IeSF is very close to get e-Sports recognized as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues.
But, we want you to know that we listen to you, and appreciate your feedback! Our efforts does not clash with the community opinion – but on the contrary – we are here for the future of e-Sports and will do our best to promote it as best as we can.”
As I tried to bend my head around it all I could come up with were different ways of saying WTF:
Why is an all-female gaming competition the only way one can come up with to highlight and promote female gaming on a global scale? By making it a different thing, what’s being said is that it’s different than men’s gaming, and in this particular case, unequal as well. If equality was a factor to the IeSF, then there wouldn’t be male and female brackets in their Starcraft 2 contests. But there are, and that’s absolutely absurd. The one and singular reason I was able to come up with was that maybe some female gamers would be more open to joining all-female tournaments due to the boy’s club that is e-sports as a whole and the very real sexual harassment that happens in the gaming community. A lot of these cases began coming to light (well, really coming into light publicly) a couple years ago. We remember Aris Bakhtanians’ creepy-as-sin antics at CrossAssault and his defense that sexual harassment was “part of the culture.” And we all remember the steady stream of misogyny and vitriol flowing Anna Sarkeesian’s way just by merely suggesting that the design of female video game characters fit lazy stereotypes and tropes. Last year Starcraft 2 player Eve retired and deleted her social accounts due to sexual harassment. So there may be a lot of points leading to a women’s division being a logical thing to make women feel more comfortable at events. But it still feels wrong.
Then Ben Kuchera over at Polygon actually summed up my thoughts on that far more eloquently than I could: “The onus is on YOU to make every player feel welcome, safe and invited. Segregating the genders is evidence that you have failed at that job, or simply don’t feel you’re up to the task.” I can’t really put it any better than that. Now instead, IeSF had decided to lean into that image and strengthen it further.
Are they trying to do something like weight classes like there are in grappling sports? Is it to make eSports the “true sport” it deserves to be? Well luckily I have some experience in grappling sports, so allow me some words on the matter.
Here’s the thing about e-sports and (hell I’ll say it, someone should) real sports. They’re different. I’m into martial arts and have been so competitively in the past, where we’re divided by gender and weight class in competition. The last time I competed (many moons ago) I fought heavyweight, meaning everyone i was matched up with was like me – men above 219 lbs. Why? Because that’s fair, and a fair contest is what it’s all about. Making me square off against a lightweight weighing in at 130 is crazy, because the odds would be ridiculously stacked in my favor on size and weight. The thing with games on the other hand, especially one like Hearthstone, is that it’s purely a mental exercise in strategy. Hearthstone is just about strategy and fun, where a player gets out the effort they put in. There’s no muscles or weight involved. It’s mind vs mind. A match between two opponents of equal skill would not favor one or the other due to physical prowess or strength. So why can’t everyone compete in an open contest? It’s another message that men and women aren’t on the same level.
Well, with all the posts on the IeSF’s Facebook page and all the backlash on Twitter and Reddit and most social media and the internet at large, As of this morning (Friday July 3, 2014), the IeSF has reversed their position on a men-only championship. In a release on their site today they publicly changed their tune:
On 2nd of July, 2014, the IeSF’s policy about gender division, which separates the female division and the male division, has been brought into question. The IeSF has listened to the gaming community and has carefully considered their opinions. Upon hearing these concerns, the IeSF convoked an emergency session of the IeSF Board to respond.
As a result, IeSF shall have two event categories: “Open for All” events and events that are reserved for women. The events which were initially set aside as the male division will now be open to all genders, and the events which were initially set as the female division will remain as they were.
The IeSF Board addressed its reason for maintaining events for women, citing the importance of providing female gamers with ample opportunities to compete in e-Sports—currently a male-dominated industry. Female gamers make up half of the world’s gaming population, but only a small percentage of e-Sports competitors are women. The IeSF’s female-only competitions aim to bring more diversity to competitive play by improving the representation of women at these events. Without efforts to improve representation, e-Sports can’t achieve true gender equality.
Is it the ideal scenario? No, not really. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m very pleased that the main championship is now open to all and that everyone has a chance to play for the title. But it still classifies a women’s division as a separate entity from the main championship. Arguments can be made for it along the same data I presented a little ways back up this page, but it’s a band-aid on a much deeper wound.
The problem is a culture that prevents everyone to feel safe and included as part of that culture. While change – albeit very slow change – is happening, that culture has a long way to go for real intrinsic transformation into a self-policing community where everyone feels welcomed, and more importantly, safe. And until that’s achieved, more and more of these band aids will have to be applied. And while yes, they may stop the bleeding for a short time, the underlying cut will still remain. I wish there were answers for an easy fix, but systemic change is anything but a speedy process.
While the IeSF made a change for the main championship, it took a great amount of internet backlash to do it. The fact still remains that without input from the masses, they themselves thought a men only championship was a good idea. So I’ll call this a good step in the right direction, but with a long way to go for the community.