Why There Are No Female LoL Pros: How to Change That

If you haven't heard the news, there's a new aspiring team in town. What makes this team different? Every member of the team is female. They recently put this video out. And as you can imagine, the video basically went ignored. There weren't any major threads popping up, nobody responded to it, and the generally mature League of Legends community went back to their business. As such, there's nothing after this break, and you might as well not even click through to read the rest of this article.

I wish.

Their video found itself on the #1 spot of Reddit's 'cringe' subreddit, with comments such as:

bigp3rm: synchronized menstruation

wildabeast20: CLG B-cup team*

One need tune into their stream for only a minute or two to see comments in twitch.tv chat such as:

  •  xanbotThis First Blood is sponsored by Tampax

  •  folkytomYou want to go pro as a top laner, but you never practise top...

  •  br0nanIf I was the manager I'd end up sleeping with Hafus team instead.

  •  rem1xzrfolkytom

  •  godlif3ACCEPT MY FRIEND REQUEST

  •  avdepazlol these tampax comments

  •  gromgarI have man boobs, can i join siren?

 Or the forums:

They're Sirens because they're using all of this attention to get their paycheck rather than actually playing the game. The more everyone hates on them, the more video views they get, the more viewers they get on streams, and the more media attention they get. They don't need to be good at League.

 

I thought they called themselves Sirens because they're loud and annoying?

Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible to make jokes about gender or race or whatever. I found this particularly funny comment on their Reddit thread:

"I play Sona." "I play Caitlyn" "I play Lux." "I play Irelia." "I play Jarvan."

"GODDAMN IT KATIE. HOW DO WE GIRLPOWER NOW?! FUCK."

What makes it funny as opposed to the other comments? The punchline isn't 'hahahah, they're women'.

Now, context is also important.

Among my close group of friends, I make a LOT of jokes that could be construed as race/gender/sex insensitive  (I personally avoid jokes that are insensitive to the gay/trans community because the struggles they face in society are still too present and all-encompassing). I often joke that I'm only friends with my friends (white college students) because I'm secretly planning on mugging them, we all refer to any black actor as 'Don Cheadle' due to a misidentification by a close friend; these jokes are essentially part of a massive inside joke that our culture shares.

 

But inside jokes are only funny when they are kept inside; they can be very offensive in the wrong contexts, where people may not realize that they are jokes, and may not know the opinions of the speakers. What makes them funny in my friend group is that we all know each other, and we all know how massively out-of-sync the comments are with our personalities. Essentially, it's a massive form of irony, and irony is only funny when you know the context.

Before I go on, I want to clarify something. I don't think the Sirens are yet a competitive team. This article isn't about Team Siren, but about the reaction people had to them, and why it's indicative of a culture that inhibits the ability of female players to rise in competitive LoL.

The reason I think that all-female teams aren't a horrible idea is the following: I don't think that managers would think that current pro teams would be mature enough to live in a gaming house with a female player (at this point in time). They could be right, they could be wrong, but why pick up a female player when that chance exists, and you could pick up an equally skilled male player?

As such, I think that the all-female gaming house is a good idea, not as a way to start an LCS team, but as a way to create a healthy training environment, so that they could ever reach that level.

What's the Big Deal?

In a number of sports (I'm going to go with Starcraft 2, Chess, and LoL, but e-sports in generally would also suffice), women and men compete in the same league. However, women are VASTLY underrepresented at the highest levels of play. For example, the top ranked female chess player, Judit Polgár, is the only woman in the top 100 players, and is currently 52nd (with a top ranking of 8). In Starcraft, the only major female player is Scarlett, who is best known for sweeping the 2012 Starcraft 2 World Championship Series Canada and 2012 Battle.net North American Championship, although she has remained relevant since, recently beating MVP in the GSTL. There are 0 pro LoL players.

Why is that?

There are a lot of reasons one could give.

Women are inherently worse at LoL.

Can we agree to just reject this one and move on?

So what external factors can we expect to decrease the number of women in high-level play? Just searching through the comments on Tuck's article, quite a few were given (in order of when I saw them):

Fewer Women

Ultimately, I think the answer is very simple. The reason there are fewer LCS-level female LoL players (publicly 0 at the moment) is simple. There are fewer competitive female players. Let's say your skill at LoL is based on 6 different skills, each of which you can rate from 1-10. You calculate those skills by rolling a d10. You have a 1 in a million chance of rolling all 10s. However, let's say your pool is 1 million players. You have a 62.3% chance of having 1 player with all 10s. On the other hand, if you only have 100 thousand players, you have a 9.6% chance of having 1 player with all 10s. And what about players with 9 10s? With a 100 thousand player pool, you have a 62.3% chance of having one. With a million player pool, you have a 99.9955% chance of having one (in other words, you have tons of them). Statistical studies on Chess have shown that the gulf between men and women comes almost entirely from the much smaller pool of female players, not an inherent skill gap.

As such, we should focus on the reasons why fewer women are drawn to computer games, and why fewer female players might play LoL competitively.

Women are less competitive

This may be a valid point, depending on the way it's framed. It's not that women are just born incapable of being competitive, it's that society criticizes them for being competitive. Socially, people's upbringing can affect the sorts of things they practice and get better at. As a kid, I got Legos and Kumon books, so is it any surprise that I have good spatial and mathematical reasoning? This is sort of a hard point to address, but it starts with the gaming community at large. A lot of this is a framing issue. A guy who wants to win at all costs is competitive; a woman who wants to win at all costs is 'a bitch'. But don't take my word for it; here's what one of the best female Magic players, Jackie Lee, had to say just one year ago. I'm not going to try to summarize her post -- it's so well written that I'd only mangle it in attempting to paraphrase it in such a short space -- but I am going to re-list 3 of her best suggestions:

1. Stop making hilarious jokes about women's gender.
6. Stop using gendered insults.
7. Call each other out on poor behavior.

Seriously, read the article; it's great, and it leads directly into my next point

Existing pro teams (and the gaming community at large) may be uncomfortable environments for women

I think the community in general is a very uncomfortable environment for women (or minorities of all kinds). Go ahead and look through tribunal and tell me how many reports you see where the reported player called somebody a c**t/f****t/n****r. Are there even analog insults for male/straight/white? As Louis CK put it:

"what can you really call a white man that really digs deep?"
"Hey, cracker!"
"Oh, ruined my day. Shouldn't have called me a cracker. It's bringing me back to owning land and people. What a drag."

Now imagine the people you play with are constantly using words that could be used to target you, about the people you play against. It may not bother you the first time, or the first day, but after 500 games, how are you going to feel about it?

And this isn't anecdotal! According to a University of Maryland study, female-name chat users get 25 times more malicious messages!

Lack of opportunities available for women

This creates a lack of opportunity, because a lot of moving up is in who you know. I'm not saying that the best people don't get the pro spots, I'm saying that if you don't know anybody else who's good/pro, you can't practice with them, and the gulf only grows. So if a high number of high-Elo players talk in ways that are potentially offensive/would make female gamers not want to play with them, that makes it harder for female gamers to practice at a high caliber level. The pro teams will be made up of all male players because those players will be the best players. But the best players will all be male because there is no way for female players to practice in a non-toxic, competitive environment. Here's a pretty good reddit comment -- in the context of Starcraft -- on why it benefits gaming teams to pick up minorities (in this case, women) who show promise, despite not CURRENTLY being as good as existing pros.

The Bigger Picture - Misogyny in LoL (and gaming)

But this brings bigger issues to the forefront. Women simply aren't taken seriously in much of gaming culture. And there's very much a Catch-22 that makes this hard to change. Essentially, the problem is this. In gaming, our 'default' gender is male. We assume that the people we're playing with, typically, are male (or maybe the gender of their characters). So female gamers have two options:

  1. Openly express gender
  2. Hide gender entirely

If they do the former, they face increased harassment. Now, I don't mean to say that only women are harassed. But when men are harassed in LoL, it's typically because of their play or their comments. Women are often harassed in LoL, simply for being women. That is, the harassment that is oriented at them is oriented not at anything they've done, but at the fact that they are women.

On the other hand, if they hide gender entirely, no problem is solved. Why? Because in the absence of any evidence, they will be perceived of as male. This is why the gaming community has this idea that the all 'girl gamers' emphasize their genders. There are plenty of female gamers. If they express their gender, they will be cognitively sorted into the 'girl gamer' group, because they're expressing their gender. On the other hand, if they don't, they simply won't be considered female, and so they won't be considered a counter-example to these gender ideas.

This is even worse for streamers. After all, streaming is not just about gameplay, but personal connection. People watch Guardsman Bob because he's chill and has a penguin. People watched many early S1 streamers for their antics. Female streamers simply don't have access to this. Any female streamer typically faces criticism of attention-seeking, and those who aren't attention-seeking will naturally shy away from all of that negative attention. So once again, yes, there are female streamers who seek attention, it's just that they're the only ones GETTING attention (by virtue of seeking it). Their being more notable makes them the examples everybody thinks of and builds stereotypes around.

I experienced a similar thing when I first started publicizing my videos; a lot of people hadn't expected that I'd be black, and since then, I've gotten the occasional negative message.

Before my videos, I wasn't a black LoL player, I was a LoL player. Women face the same problem, except the main criticism leveled against female players is attention-seeking behavior, which of course, is verified by picture/video evidence of their being female. So the very nature of being identifiable as female is the very evidence people use to label female gamers as attention-seeking; this makes a female gamer almost by definition attention seeking, so how are these gamers supposed to support the game they love?

How to Behave

I hate to offer any advice when I've already linked this article (written by a woman, no less), but if I had to propose a solution, it would be this:

  1. There won't be pro female players until there are more competitive female players in general.
  2. Women are driven away from gaming because they feel like outsiders for a few reasons:
    • Misogynistic jokes/comments
    • Nobody acting 'normally' around them (either being nervous or hitting on them)
    • Et Al.
  3. Women can't solve that problem on their own, not because they're powerless, but because the problem is in the community's behavior. We can't expect that women simply be thicker-skinned; this culture IS offensive.
    Edit: When I say 'we can't expect that women simply be thicker-skinned', I'm not saying that they are incapable of it, I'm saying that it's unfair to force them to. This applies to the toxic community in general, and is why we should solve toxicity. But it applies much more strongly to minorities in the game, especially women.
  4. Men who are aware of this problem need to make sure that they aren't enforcing it. We can do this by not making offensive comments or jokes that are either about women or denigrate women, and by treating female gamers like normal people.
  5. Men (and women) who are aware of this problem need to also make sure that they don't stand for other people enacting it.

Again, I don't mean to say that there's nothing women can do to mitigate these problems. But the behavioral problems largely stem from men, and it is simply irresponsible to put the onus on women to avoid being in any situation in which a man might be TEMPTED to behave poorly; this is simply victim-blaming.

What do you think, RoG? What can the community do to be more inclusive? Would this cause there to me more high-level female players? Is gender the only issue? I'd be curious to hear Aphromoo's thoughts on being a black pro player; I have received a small amount of blowback, but he's much more prominent than I am.

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