Please, Keep Recognizing Female eSports Pros
A few days ago, I decided to listen to the latest episode of the High Noon Podcast, which focuses on competitive Overwatch news. Most of the episode was fine, but when the two began talking about the recent signing of Geguri to ROX Orcas, I got a little bristled.
TheBelvins gives a brief overview of the news, then goes on to say, "I just consider it like a non-issue, for me. Like, I don't think it's that big of a deal. But, I mean, it is cool." A little later on, he also says, "It's not surprising to me that she's on a pro team, but people made a big deal out of it, so..."
Now, before I get into all this, I just want to note that I know TheBelvins didn't mean anything by his statements. DeathBlow jumps in eventually and they kind of talk through it to make it clear that the whole story shouldn't be some hot topic because she's a good player and that's enough. Gender shouldn't mean anything. And, in a perfect world, I'd agree. As long as you play well and work with your team, nothing else should matter.
Here's the thing, though. In our imperfect world, recognizing these stepping stones is important. And yes, Geguri's signing is a stepping stone. After all, she is the first female player to compete in arguably the most elite Overwatch tournament around.
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. Isn't the best way to promote equality in gaming to just treat female pro news like we would male pro news? Well, no and yes. Once the player is in a competition with the team and playing and whatnot, yes, I very much agree that they should be treated the same. Don't give her extra screen time just because she's a girl. Don't hold back on criticism or only focus on the good moments without pointing out the bad just because she's female. If you really need to point out that she's the only female, make it a secondary fact. "ROX Orcas also has Geguri, a new recruit whose Zarya skills were so good she had to prove via live broadcast that she wasn't using an aimbot. She's also the first female to compete in the series." Something like that. If anything, it should be an aside during a match, not the main focus.
But when the signing news first breaks, I definitely think people should put a little extra emphasis on how big of a step it is. People don't even have to talk about the specific player if they don't want (though I always like to give props where props are due). You can talk about how having the first female in the series shows growth toward complete inclusion and equality, toward that perfect world that we'd all like to think we're living in. If eSports got a primetime spot on ESPN (like the main ESPN), that would be important to talk about, right? It'd be big news. Well, these steps toward an inclusive competitive atmosphere should be too.
There are a lot of other things that need continue to be addressed for eSports -- and the gaming industry as a whole -- to become a truly inclusive space (like the painfully obvious gender harassment issue in online games or the uneven representation even within games themselves), but we all know about those. They're problems that have been around for years and it's all that ever gets focused on when it comes to women in gaming.
Recognizing growth for the accomplishment that it is does so much more for the industry than treating it like just another news story ever would. Taking a second to say, "Hey, it's really cool that we're seeing women getting added to these rosters. I hope we see more awesome female players rise up in the future," with no stipulations or "they should be treated just like everyone else" clauses attached is easy. Every person with a heart and a desire for a world where people are equal knows that women should be treated just like everyone else. But we don't live in that world.
So stop adding those little asides, give the props for being a milestone, and move on.