E-sports boomed while most sports experienced major disruptions because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and the industry’s monumental potential is expected to skyrocket. As gaming continues to grow, getting more girls in the game could be one way to diversify the future of technology.
Once considered an off-beat niche of entertainment, esports has been growing rapidly for years, and has now evolved into a global industry worth more than a billion dollars.
Millions of people – regardless of gender, race, or age – play video games, and as the amount of gamers grows, the esports audience does as well. According to NewZoo research, there were 245 million casual viewers and 198 million enthusiasts of video games in 2019, making the total audience 443. By 2023, the audience will grow to more than 646 million people, the research projects.
It’s not surprising that esports is expected to continue growing, given the media attention it’s already receiving and the investment from celebrities and private equity. Along with broadcasts on ESPN, media sponsorship and rights account for almost 75 percent of industry revenue.
Esports champions have won hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars by winning tournaments. While only a select few can take home the jackpot prizes, a career in gaming isn’t limited to the world’s most elite gamers. New job opportunities and career paths in the growing industry seem endless, including marketing, business, analytics, journalism, design, data science, or programming.
Esports also provides soft skills that translate to STEM jobs, like critical thinking, strategy, problem solving, computational thinking, and spatial theory. It’s also a natural way to pick up technical skills like coding, programming, and software engineering – which is why many schools have implemented esports into their coursework, and several organizations and youth programs have introduced specific camps and other opportunities to learn coding through gaming.
NBA star LeBron James recently announced a partnership with Microsoft to offer themed coding programs related to his upcoming film Space Jam: A New Legacy, and other organizations like Girls In the Game have partnered with Dell Technologies to teach STEM to young girls through the game Minecraft . The theory is that if more kids get into esports at a younger age, it could lead to more wanting to pursue careers in tech or other STEM industries.
The technology and esports industries experience similar problems: they’re male dominated industries, but there’s no logical reason why that should be true. Unlike other sports, gaming doesn’t require any special athletic abilities. Anyone can be a “gamer” as long as you have access to a system and a game. And unlike pop culture and media suggest, gaming isn’t reserved for just teen boys. Girls play video games and enjoy watching video games, and this number continues to grow. In 2020 alone, it was estimated that women made up 41 percent of gamers.
Furthermore, the picture is even bleaker for video game developers. While women in video game design is estimated to be below 24 percent, according to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) 2019 game developer satisfaction survey, only two percent of all developers identified as Black, African, or West Asian. Since 2014, there’s been virtually no movement in either of these areas, according to IGDA’s research.
While diversity in this concentration hasn’t changed much, a record-high 83 percent of survey respondents in 2019 believe that diversity in the workplace is important. These attitudes also extend toward game content, as 87 percent of respondents indicated that diversity in games is somewhat or very important to the industry, compared to just 71% of respondents in 2015.
Girls aren’t shying away from STEM education either. More than 200,000 women earned STEM degrees in 2019, a 49 percent increase from 2009. On top of that, a 2018 English study showed that girl gamers ages 13 to 14 who played more than nine hours of video games a week were three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree compared to non-gamer girls. What’s even more interesting, is that this finding isn’t the same in boys, who weren’t more or less likely to pursue STEM based on their gaming preferences.
Yet, even though women are skilled and interested in the field, and the U.S. Labor Bureau statistics estimates that the tech sector will experience the highest growth in job numbers up to 2030, women are still being left out. Less than 25 percent of tech professionals identify as women, and of that small fraction, women of color are left out at alarmingly low numbers (less than five percent). Women software engineer hires have only increased two percent over the last 20 years, and only 38 percent of women who majored in computer science are working in the field compared to 53 percent of ment. It’s difficult to retain women in tech and computer engineering because of discriminiation, harassment, lack of female leadership and mentors, and being underpaid compared to their male counterparts.
Similarly enough, women in esports face the same issues. While there aren’t any gendered barriers to participation, girls in gaming face bullying and sexual harassment online, sexism, negative stereotypes, and may not be taken seriously by their competitors. Girls also might not receive the adequate support needed to become an elite gamer and can be encouraged to not put in the extensive hours of practice. While many people could view boy gamers as natural talents with pro potential, girl gamers who have the same passion could be viewed as just liking a typical hobby.
While the industry continues to grow, the fact of the matter is that more women and minorities are needed to evolve the sector. First and foremost, a lack of diversity in any industry hurts business’ pockets, but more importantly, companies miss out on new ideas, experiences, and perspectives that improve the quality and satisfaction of a product or service. By not hiring more women in tech areas like video game design, programming, or computer science, and discouraging girls from pursuing esports, it derives society of innovation, creation, and success, all of which are core tenets of technology and gaming.
So how do we encourage more girls in esports? Girls need to see more mentors and role models in esports and STEM, but it also comes down to corporate, societal and individual support.
Normalize the conversation — Like traditional physical sports, girls still face stigma in a male-dominated sector like gaming. The most effective way to combat the harassment is to normalize girls in the game. Esports leagues need to add female gamers to their teams, women in gaming need to be marketed to the public, and women need to be invited to more high-stakes tournaments. Give girls the opportunity to succeed by providing individual support or mentorship if they have a passion for gaming, design, or coding. Some girl gamers have said to quit despite being passionate about gaming because they don’t receive the support needed (similar to support any serious athlete would receive in their sport), while others never even pick up a controller because they assume video games aren’t meant for them. Show girls they belong, and teach boys the same.
Sponsor more opportunities for girls— Change is not going to happen without more buy in on a corporate or leadership level. Companies, especially tech, computer science, or esports specific businesses, need to invest in setting the foundation for getting more girls in the game. AT&T, who has been a long time proponent of women’s sports, launched AT&T Unlocked, a video game development competition for women, in the fall. Six finalists were chosen and paired with influential female experts as mentors and showcased their game in December through a livestream on Twitch. The grand prize winner received $50,000 to fund the final stage of game development, as well as lifetime mentorship, and AT&T will publish and market the final product. Two other winners also received $10,000 each in funding.
The NBA 2K League, the NBA’s official esports league, launched a women in gaming development camp in 2019. The four-day camp brought together 15 of the best female 2K players to compete and learn from league players and coaches. The campers watched film sessions and participated in workshops meant to prep them for the league tryout process. Chiquita Evans, the only woman drafted into the NBA 2K League so far, served as one of the camp’s mentors.
Change the way video games are marketed— Someone who doesn’t know anything about video games would probably perceive the industry as a hypermasculine one, and that’s probably because of the way videos games are marketed and perceived. Violence and gore are marketed heavily in the media, which could dissuade girls even more from getting into games. But at the heart of video games are stories. Adding more diversity to video game development, publishing, and marketing teams could help tell more impactful stories that resonate with different audiences rather than just catering to what a teenage boy has enjoyed in the past. Sports video games also need to market better, as about half of sports fans are women. NBA 2K20 added the WNBA to its game in 2019, and provided even more features in 2020, and FIFA added international women’s teams to its game in the last few years. Hire athletes from these leagues to promote the game, and don’t miss out on large financial opportunities by ignoring the diverse make up of gamers.
The tech industry needs more women, and gaming might just be the one of the most effective ways to do it.