Addressing Social Issues In Gaming And Esports: A Work In Progress

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, October 6, 2020
For those who don't know, some of the critical social issues we are dealing with today around race, sexism, and representation are present in the gaming and esports world too.

Women gamers face discrimination, racial slurs are used on online chat forums, and even the stories featured in games don't have representative and diverse casts.

Personally, I struggle to find ways to hold myself accountable for being a part of the change that I want to see in the world.

Recently, I realized that I couldn't think of a single video game story that I have played with a protagonist of color. That doesn't mean they are not out there, but picturing it is quite difficult.

Despite these challenges, I want to highlight some companies that are getting the ball rolling on these key issues in esports and gaming.

Back in August, Twitch announced its partnership with nonprofit organization Cxmmunity, which aims to increase POC participation in gaming and esports. Through their collaboration, historically black colleges/universities (HBCUs) will have their very own esports league on Twitch, and the Amazon company will help foster greater involvement of youth programs in esports.



In the beginning of September, Nerd Street Gamers, an amateur/semi-professional esports competition organizer, and Comcast Spectacor Gaming, Comcast's sports and entertainment division dedicated to gaming, teamed up with Riot Games for a big cap on their summer event “FTW (For the Women): Summer Showdown”, an all women's competition in Riot's new tactical first-person shooter, Valorant.

Through Riot's endorsement, the prize pool was expanded from $10,000 to $50,000, and it became an official Ignition Series event, a designation given by Riot for their initial creation of Valorant's esports competitions.

It represents the first and only all-women Valorant esports tournament.

In reality, esports teams can be coed, but gamers have often discriminated against women gamers --calling them bad players instead of supporting them, although women make up at least 40% of esports viewers and gamers.

Even the way player-controlled characters look in-game is important for representation. For the longest time, Activision Blizzard's World of Warcraft had relatively few customization options within their character creation tool.

While your avatar could have a darker complexion, the majority of characters did not, and the majority of non-playable characters (called NPCs) were not of color, either.

In its next major add-on expansion, releasing on October 26th, the entire game will get an overhauled customization system, allowing characters to make themselves into a larger variety of people of color and add all sorts of cosmetic touches in keeping with the game's vast and rich story.

In addition, the next expansion also features a prominent transgender character who, while a woman in a past life, takes on the form of a male in the afterlife and uses "he" and "him" pronouns.

On top of design elements, narrative is incredibly crucial as well. Barely any narrative driven blockbuster games have featured protagonists of color or of non-heterosexual orientation.

The latest example that entered the mainstream is game developer Naughty Dog's massive hit, The Last of Us 2, in which players switch perspectives throughout the story between two characters -- Abby and Ellie.

Although Abby is a physically powerful woman -- showing off muscularity and strength that is not typical of female characters -- she is still a white woman. Ellie, while also white, is also a lesbian woman who ends up in a loving relationship with a character of color.

For the industry, this kind of prominent onscreen/in-game representation is relatively rare (other examples include "Overwatch," "Dragon Age," and "Mass Effect," but in those games it's a side option, not part of the main story).

There is still a long way to go. All of these initiatives that have happened this year are great steps in the right direction -- the hope must be that we encourage each other to continue to do better, and for other companies to step forward with similar goals.

I am sure I missed something -- let me know. It's great for myself and others to know about the good work being done out there -- and to realize there is even more work to be done.

2 comments about "Addressing Social Issues In Gaming And Esports: A Work In Progress".
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  1. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, October 8, 2020 at 10:59 a.m.

    Like many others, this piece managed to conflate "gaming" with "esports" and missed a plethora of philanthropic initiatives.  It also totally ignores the way many top esports teams are organized where women are on staff and participate as pro gamers or content creators.  Pro gamer Scarlet has been a formiddable force in Starcraft for many years btw.

    There are also plenty of video games that feauture women and offer a choice in how they look - and letting all players play as a male or female character.  The massively popular video game Fortnite comes to mind.  Games like World of Warcraft also offer plenty of female characters, so this piece managed to mischaracterize two major industries with misninformation.

    There is always room for improvement, but the video game industry has evolved much more quickly and has been much more inclusive than other forms of entertainment. This wide swath based on loose observations just reinforces misconceptions about the industry instead of really digging in to help educate the advertising community. 

    In closing, all pro teams, leagues, and publishers have standards of behavior and will levy large fines or ban individuals who break those standards of behavior.  This should be recognized and appreciated and the forums referred to where mysoginy and racial slurs take place are primarily in poorly moderated forums filled with anonymous posters.  Hundreds of millions of men and women participate in gaming, and by and large, it is a very diverse and welcoming community.  There is a lot more good than bad in this space.

  2. Zach Oscar from Simulmedia replied, October 8, 2020 at 11:58 a.m.

    Hey Dan,

    Seems like you didn't read very closely (which is something you've done on other pieces of mine). I very directly said here are "some" of the companies addressing these issues that I wanted to highlight, and then closed my article by saying that I'm sure there's a lot more out there.

    Anyone truly educated on the space would know that there is barely any female gamer presence in the pro scene, naming Scarlet does not suddenly fix a lack of representation for women at the top of esports, and there is a LOT more work to be done. One or two women does not suddenly mean that women are represented, and women staff does not mean they are part of esports competitions. So many women have written about their lack of presence in gaming/esports that I wonder why you, as a man, feel like you can say that they are adequately represented!

    Also, never does this article conflate gaming with esports. I discuss esports initiatives and gaming initiatives separately. And as for the levies and fines you discuss, how come Riot Games had a massive lawsuit over female complaints of sexism at work? The existance of those levies and fines doesn't fix the problems.

    Hopefully, you will stop pretending you read these pieces when you comment, so as to stop genuinely mischaracterizing/ignoring the reality of my written statements.

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