In anticipation of the upcoming 2014 World Championship, Riot released a new trailer that features a heart-pumping Imagine Dragons song, cool, stylized animation, and a message of perseverance, teamwork, and glory. There’s just one thing missing. Check out the video below, and we’ll talk about it after the jump:
According to Riot, the video was meant to be a kind of “war cry to rally behind.” Which is a neat idea, and the song certainly achieves a sense of anticipation and excitement. It happens to be a war cry, though, for just one gender. All the characters in the video are male.
You might think this is just accuracy, as none of the 16 teams competing for the World Champions title have a woman on them – neither did the 2013 World Championship teams, nor the 2012 teams, nor the 2011 teams. In fact, 90% of LoL‘s player base is male, which makes the chances of a woman making it to the pro level pretty slim. In North America, that chance is nonexistent – no female pro players exist.
So, yes, ‘accuracy’ is a valid reason for the lack of female characters in the video. But that speaks to a larger problem – where are the women warriors? Why is LoL (and, for that matter, most esports) 90% male? Why don’t we see more women playing professionally? In real sports, there are divided leagues due to physical limitations. In esports, games based on skill alone, there should be no reason why female players couldn’t hold their own against or beat their male counterparts.
So, what gives? Well, there certainly have been…somewhat cringeworthy attempts in the past to break this barrier (I’m looking at you, Team Siren), which have had the effect of deepening the divide between male and female players. All-female teams have sprung up in various professional leagues, but it seems to defeat the purpose. Why are women segregating themselves in the esports arena – even to the point of creating all-female leagues – instead of looking to team up with their male peers and work as equals?
It’s not the lack of female characters to play as. Unlike some console fighting games, LoL has a pretty gender-equal roster, with female characters making up 40 of the total 118, while humanoid characters are split 50/50 (male characters make up a much more significant portion of the ‘monster’ type). Yes, that statistic could be better. There could be less sexualization – 68% of female characters have a revealing figure, and only two female champions have avoided having skins that show off more than is necessary. And the characters themselves could be more varied – why aren’t there more grotesque/weird/monstrous female characters? Why are there so many female supports, and so few female junglers?
Maybe it comes down to – as it often seems to do – the community. LoL isn’t known as the most healthy environment to begin with. In my own experiences, I’ve met with a large number of extremely rude and downright mean players – and all without revealing my gender. It seems that verbal harassment comes with the territory, which isn’t to say that I haven’t also met my share of great, friendly players as well. But if there’s a trend of negative interactions to begin with, it only gets worse as a woman. In a recent survey conducted by reddit user DameHixxi, 68% of women and 49% of men labelled esports (in general – not even taking into consideration the difference in politeness between LoL and DoTA 2) a ‘negative environment for women,’ and that 68% also reported that their gender had, at one time or another, ‘affected their interactions with the community.’
Then there’s the level outside of the game itself – marketing. For the demographic of 21-34 year old males, esports championships attract more viewership than the Superbowl. That’s nuts. It’s also a huge reason for large companies like Coca-Cola to invest in games like LoL and DoTA 2. And that core audience is expanding rapidly, leaving companies little incentive to look elsewhere for marketing opportunities. So, as in the console game arena, women get left behind in advertising and marketing campaigns. If women make up such a small population, why target them? As marketing agency Trifecta Media succinctly explains, “In terms of gaining female gamers as readers, I think any benefit would be quite limited.” Where’s the incentive for females to play in an industry that doesn’t want them there?
And we’re back to the video – women literally don’t see themselves in esports. Maybe they’re not encouraged to invest time in the game, not only because of harrassment, but because there isn’t a clear visualization of what they could have waiting for them. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has a program called ‘See Jane’, with the premise, ‘If she can see it, she can be it.’ Let’s get some more positive examples of women in LoL out there – not just as ‘Warriors’, but as equals in the community being treated with respect. There are people and players making big strides in that direction, so let’s keep the momentum going.
What are your feelings about League of Legends and female players? Have you had good/bad experiences with the game or esports in general? Let us know in the comments!