A new study reveals that the top 500 highest earners in esports are mostly men. That is to say, 499 of those 500 are men. Only one woman has broken into those esteemed ranks, and that speaks to some major inequality in the industry. There are several possible suggested reasons for this, but the data all seems to say that women are just not welcome.
The study is on Casino.org, and is called Women In Esports: Exploring Gender Inequality In Esports Participation And Viewership. By citing various statistics, from esports earnings to the reactions women hear in online game chat, it makes the case that female gamers are not seen as equals. One of the biggest indicators of this is hostile reception women often get in the esports world.
It wasn't long ago that that Chiquita Evans became the first woman to officially join the NBA 2k Pro League. She recalled almost giving up because, as soon as she spoke up online, other players would say "that's a girl?" and then never pass her the ball. Even Geguri, an Overwatch League contender known for her skill, admitted to looking at a program to disguise her voice online.
The Casino.org study reveals that 57% of the women surveyed faced a similar situation of being harassed as soon as they revealed their gender online. The most common insults were sexist comments and instant criticism of skill. Faced with such hostility, many female games ask themselves the same question Chiquita Evans did, "is it worth trying to compete when people automatically count me out due to my gender?"
Unfortunately, sticking it out and making to the big leagues is not the end. This brings us back to the main result of the study, that women just don't make as much money as men in esports. That one woman who did break into the top 500 was Scarlett, a Starcraft 2 champion. With her $296,000 earnings, she still only ranks 301 in the top 500 (the top is KuroKy with $4.1 mil to his name). So what's stopping her, and fellow female esports pros, from making more?
One thing to consider is that Starcraft 2 doesn't offer the biggest prize pools in gaming. Epic Games throws millions at Fortnite events to make them spectacles, and Overwatch League is similarly invested in being an industry on its own. If women are to earn as much as men, those are the games they need to be competing in. However, back when Overwatch League was just starting, there were no women on any of the teams. Kotaku asked why that was. Outlaws general manager Matt Rodriguez said "You have to go through all these hurdles, like if you pick up a player, is the press gonna call it a PR stunt, or is it because she was the best?”
That becomes another obstacle in women's way. When they do prove themselves, when their skill is apparent, many will still label their presence in esports as special treatment. A stunt for a team to show how diverse they are rather than a simple recruitment of a good player. Teams would rather avoid the scandal, and so simply avoid signing women.
The study calls attention to other disparities, such as Twitch viewership, and is worth reading in full. Of course, the one thing it can't do is provide all the answers. Calling attention to inequality is a good first step, but solving it will require a lot more work. One thing gamers can do right away is treat each other better regardless of what voice comes from their microphone. From there, we're going to have to take a long hard look at the current competitive culture.