Ah, yes. The beloved “should we host all women’s events” question has revealed its ugly presence, yet again. This issue has clung to the competitive gaming community for years now, like a stubborn tick embedded in our skin. Though new arguments for each “side” periodically arise, the same rationales are often tossed back and forth. This topic is far from new, so let’s rewind.
A few years ago, I attended a co-ed, competitive Smash Brothers tournament. This, by standard, is a normal event. I was lounging in the crowded hallway, chatting with friends when it happened. Someone brought up the ~*controversial*~ topic of all women’s events. The memory of how my face contorted at that moment is quite distinct, even now. I’d reckon it probably resembled the same face I would make after having one too many shots of cheap vodka. In short, I was repulsed by the idea. My female friend standing by me, also a longtime Smash player, echoed a similar sentiment.
To give you some history, I spent a few years competing in Smash Bros. co-ed tournaments starting in 2006. I no longer compete, but still consider myself a member of the community. At the time, the notion that I ought to be segregated to another event because of my gender alone was sickening. I had competed for years in co-ed tournaments without a problem, why would I willingly partake in a segregated bracket? To offhandedly suggest that I could not keep up with the male players was insulting, to say the least. Tournaments were designed to gauge skill, so why else would you divide the competitors? I refused to support the idea for many years to come.
In 2011, I moved to New York City for a full-time design job. I had reached a point in my life where I had ceased competing in Smash singles events. Nevertheless, I still clung tightly onto my strong beliefs regarding the opposition of women’s events. What spare time I had in the city was devoted to Adobe Creative Suite instead of my pearly, Nintendo Wii console. The nature of my design job required that I often work alongside engineers. Logically, I became friends with several of them. For those unaware, the gender ratio in tech is just as skewed as it is in esports. So when I was invited to hang out with said friends for dinner, I didn’t so much as flinch when I saw the table consisting entirely of men upon arrival. Idealistic or not, it was the norm and to be expected. It wasn’t until I wiggled my way towards the back that my eyes met those of my petite female friend, who was tucked away in the corner. As I struggled to plant my butt on a barstool, she smiled and grabbed my arm. She lowered her voice and whispered into my ear …
“I’m so glad you made it! I really didn’t want to be the only girl here.”
I should have been enjoying my Dark n’ Stormy that evening, but instead, it felt like someone had plowed a tennis racket through my face. My youth was spent being one of the few girls around a bunch of dudes thanks to gaming, my tomboyishness, and other factors. It never occurred to me that this was out of the ordinary. I was astounded that it took me so long to realize the following:
- Being one of the few women in an environment dominated by men is not the norm for all women.
- Some women prefer to be surrounded by plenty of other women.
- Skewed gender ratios in environments can cause discomfort to women who are not accustomed to it.
- Not all women are the same. Not all women are me. There is no one type of woman, and that is okay.
Have you ever noticed that some of the most vocal women against all-female tournaments are those who are veterans of the community? Dare I say it’s because the idea of needing a gateway entry point when we’ve already existed for years is demeaning? Yet, when I consider the prospect of all women’s tournaments, I see opportunities ripe with the potential growth for a new demographic, not the current one. Growth implies promoting inclusivity to those not already involved. In essence, women’s events are not necessarily targeted towards longtime members, but more towards women who have yet to experience our community for whatever reasons.
This realization hit me like a sack of bricks: Despite identifying as a woman, I had not been able to comprehend that these events were not necessarily designed for me, or other women like me. In fact, I’ve already encountered several female friends of mine who’ve stated that they would venture out to tournaments only if an all-women’s event existed. By no means does this make them “weaker" than me, it makes them different, and that is okay.
Many label the concept of an all-women’s environment by the trendy buzzword, “safe space,” a term I’ve diligently avoided for this entire piece. The idea of a “safe-space" is to provide a temporary setting to promote growth. Women’s only events should exist solely as a form of affirmative action until there is enough growth that they no longer need to exist. It is one of the main reasons in favor of all women’s events, but allow me to stop right now before you close this tab. This is where the conversation frequently tapers off and the futile question of “Should we have all women’s events?” begins to prevail again.
“It’s not going to help!”
“But safe-spaces are needed to grow!”
“I can compete in co-ed, I don’t need my own event!”
“Safe-spaces are a necessary evil!”
“Segregating us will further the divide!”
We’ve heard both sides of the arguments time and time again. But why? Why have we spent so long sitting in a hole debating about hypotheticals? Have we ever run a co-ed tournament and when it ran less than perfect, decided that it should cease to exist? If you truly want an answer to the question of whether or not women’s events will ultimately help, let me answer it for you right now: I don’t know. That’s a perfectly suitable answer, folks. Conjecture means nothing, but action does. Numbers are what matter. Subjective outcomes do not. Iteration is what matters. Cyclical debates do not. Refinement is a process, not a single instance.
As we dwindle away time arguing in circles, there are already organizations trailblazing the path to discovery. Compared to other gaming communities, Counter-Strike has been leading by example. Not only do they have sponsored all-female teams like CLG.Red, but also large events like Intel Challenge Katowice, an all-female event with a prize pool of $30,000 in 2015. Their scene has been running all women’s events for years now. Have they achieved perfection? Absolutely not. Despite large strides of progress, there still remains a large gap in the ratio of professional women to men, both in skill and numbers. What’s causing this and how can women’s events morph to aid the disparity? I don’t know the answers myself, but I assure you that these questions are far more worth investigating than “Should all women’s tournaments take place?”
What it ultimately boils down to is: Is this an exploration worth your resources? A small percentile of women already participate, but while the organic growth is steady, it is relatively slow. How would numbers evolve if tournaments could attract women who normally do not gravitate towards male dominated environments? Would the prospect of readily available female role models entice more women to engage in competitive gaming? As the gender ratio evens out and more women play, will we begin to finally pinpoint more top female competitors? I may not have all the answers right now, but I recognize that an increased amount of women, and thus people in esports, would inevitably bolster the industry as a whole. Doubts or not, I earnestly believe that the potential to expand a flourishing industry’s demographic nearly twofold is worth investigating. Optimistic? You bet, I look forward.
Trade your fears, conjecture, and skepticism in exchange for action. Explorations are not perfect, but are instead, littered with mistakes. Such is the nature of venturing into unknown territories in order to pave new paths. Success does not come without obstacles, nor is change met without resistance. But to overcome this could possibly yield a massive reward: an exponential boost in the already accelerating growth of esports. So let me ask you, would you rather remain bottlenecked by the question, “Should we have all-female tournaments?” or would you prefer to find out the outcome for yourself? It’s your call.
And with that, I leave you with a set of logistical questions to get the actual discussion going:
- Should there be a prize pool? If so, how should it compare to the co-ed prizes? Is that fair to a co-ed competition? Without a prize-pool, will there still be initiative for newcomers to participate? Does the prize pool change with the growth of the quantity of women?
- Tournaments are devices structured to measure skill, so how does one brand and market an all women’s event while recognizing that it is about creating a safe space, and not a way to imply that women are less skilled?
- How do the policies and rules of women events transform over time to capitalize on maximum growth? For example, are rules implemented that require women to join the co-ed competition after they’ve participated in x-amount of women’s only events? When is it safe to kickstart these restrictions?
- What needs to happen to safe-spaces/women’s tournaments to ensure that they are constantly feeding back into co-ed tournaments and promoting healthy competition? How does one ensure these events nurture high-level gameplay when compared to co-ed?
- How do we design and market an all women tournaments to be inclusive? What is the tone of the language used for advertising and PR? How can the visual design represent and resonate with all types of women?
- How do these events remain transparent and communicate the goal clearly to their respective scenes?
- What does the Code of Conduct look like and how does an event enforce it?
- I’m sure you can think of some questions. I’ve got plenty more.
- I am not claiming to be a fountain of knowledge regarding the Counter-Strike community.
- Despite mentioning that I come from a Smash background, this post is not necessarily targeted towards the Smash community.