Gamer Girls in Streaming and eSports

Ever since video games have been invented, the stereotype of the anti-social male teenager has prevailed. However, the number of female gamers have been steadily rising these past years, to the point where it has reached to above 50%. Video games now come in many different genres, beyond that of the classic shooters and action games, and many now appeal to a broad range of gamers. Unfortunately, many of those in esports and video game development continue to hold on to the past stereotype of gamers, and women continue to be under recognized as a sizeable part of gamer communities.

Last week a male League of Legends player posted on Reddit*, revealing that he had disguised himself as a female gamer as a scheme to make money. The challenger ranked gamer, taking up the persona “Amberly”, created an AMA (Ask-me-anything) on Reddit two months ago, and he began streaming games under this name. The post ended up gaining a large amount of attention, including that of several prominent esports figures, at one point with the streamer even being offered a sponsorship by an e-sport team. Because of the rarity of a high-ranked female gamer, many were willing to support the streamer with donations. He later refunded money to all of the donors alongside his reveal, saying that he felt guilty of manipulating them.

League of Legends - a Popular eSports and Streaming Game

This raises some important questions. Do female streamers have an automatic advantage over male streamers? Is it unfair for male streamers who put the same amount of effort, yet end up gaining less attention? On the other hand, is this money-making ploy disrespectful to female streamers?

As seen with the case of “Amberly”, the mere fact of being female is enough to garner attention and subsequently money. In virtually every Twitch chat of a well-known female gamer there are always the occasional (and often disturbing) comments on the streamer’s appearance. When browsing Youtube videos, often there is the image of a woman on the preview of a popular video. It seems that there are more and more women who take advantage of their appearance and gender to win over a large audience, and this is often successful due to the large male viewer community. However, saying that female streamers have large amounts of views only because of their gender may also unfairly discredit them. Popular female streamer “Hafu” sees the act of disguising yourself as a ‘female gamer’ to earn money as ‘offensive’, as it devalues the position of female streamers. She states that the reason why she donated to “Amberly” was to show her support for female gamers in the League of Legends esports scene. “Amberly” himself believes that Hafu and several other well-known figures donated to him as a token of appreciation for a ‘female gamer’ in a ‘tough male dominant scene’.

Ironically, female gamers are extremely rare in esports, which generally tend to be male-dominated. Many modern games seem to be directly targeting a male-only audience, with things such as over-sexualized female characters becoming a common theme in popular titles. In fact, gaming as a ‘male hobby’ seems to be integrated into our society, with the computer and technology areas commonly being seen as ‘masculine’. For streaming, the ratio of female gamers goes up by a lot, but one has to keep in mind that these two industries are very different. While esports is a measure of skill, the popularity of a streamer often depends of his or her personality and occasionally, their looks. On the other hand, women are often discouraged from pursuing professional gaming due to the fact that there is an extreme lack of successful female gamers. Because of the hardships of pursuing a professional career in esports, turning to streaming is much more common.

Dota 2 - Another popular eSports / Streaming Game

Despite the large female gamer ratio, companies continue to promote their games almost exclusively to male audiences. Although these games generally enjoy success, there have been a number of well-received games in the past which have taken a different stance: focusing on strong female protagonists. A few names come immediately to mind: Portal, Mirror’s Edge, Child of Light. Even large video game companies such as Valve, EA, and Ubisoft have found success in targeting the general demographic rather than a specific gender. And then there are indie games such as Transistor from Supergiant Games which have achieved an amazing amount of fame while simultaneously having a female main character. Unfortunately, many are now turning back to old cut-and-paste models for success, such as Ubisoft, which has increasingly focused on a generic Anglo-Saxon male protagonist for many of its recent games.

There is a lot of untapped potential in the female player base, but due to the lack of encouragement and male-orientated esports scenes, female gamers are often overlooked when building rosters for professional teams. A rare case occurred with Team Siren in 2013, a League of Legends team which was comprised only of women. However, their infamous promotional video and their relatively low ranking and skill level (Gold as opposed to the usual Diamond tier) lead to large community backlash and hatred. Although Team Siren was more than a little inadequate as an example of professional female gamers, their reputation left a large blemish on the female gaming community. This shouldn’t be the case - after all, isn't it skill and not gender which makes a player good?

The video game and esports industries should start expanding their target audiences - there isn’t much of an advantage in only looking at one half of the population.

I've been playing videogames and mmos ever since my childhood, and have tried a huge variety of games and genres. Lately I can be found playing Path of Exile, Heroes of the Storm, or League of Legends. Apart from gaming, I also enjoy writing, reading, and sleep.