Appleton: Segregation does not belong in pro gaming

July 4, 2014 

The social media websites of an international pro-gaming federation are probably the last place anyone would expect to see a major gender equality battle, but that's exactly what happened earlier this week.

Controversy flooded the Web Wednesday when the Finnish Assembly Summer 2014 e-sports (electronic sports) tournament posted the rules for its upcoming events, which excluded women from several competitions. Finland is one of 46 member countries in the International e-Sports Federation, which is based in Seoul, South Korea.

Thousands of comments and emails flooded the IeSF, including one from Activision-Blizzard, an IeSF sponsor.

As a result, the IeSF ended a policy that required all tournament participants to compete in separate gender divisions. The federation issued a statement Wednesday evening saying that the men-only division would now be "open for all," while the women-only division will remain in place.

The IeSF Board defended its decision to keep the women-only division by saying that it provided women with ample opportunity to compete in e-sports, which the board believes is disproportionately dominated by men. This division will improve representation at e-sports events, the statement goes on to say, which is necessary for true equality in the growing professional leagues.

That may be true, but I think this women-only division also sends a different message to millions of young women who play video games and/or watch e-sports competitions.

This division tells these young women that they need a set of training wheels to make it in professional gaming. They don't need to worry because there's a back-up plan if they can't compete with the men.

I am also confused as to why this division only features two of the five games available in the unisex division. Does this mean "StarCraft II" and "Tekken Tag Tournament 2" are girl games, but "Ultra Street Fighter 4," "DOTA 2" and "Hearthstone" are not? There's no reason for this women-only league to be a lesser one.

I can't get behind this idea. I understand the need to integrate women into e-sports, but I don't think there are gray areas when it comes to equality issues. Things are equal, or they are not. And a professional league where women can compete in two divisions while men can only compete in one is not equal.

The world should know better by now. The separate-but-equal model has never worked out. In some cases, it has actually led to the pain and suffering of millions. This IeSF situation is obviously minor when compared to the vast majority of gender or racial discrimination problems, but it makes me wonder if people learn anything from the mistakes of their ancestors.

I am glad the IeSF decided to allow women to compete in the events, but it should have been a universal break from segregation. There should be one league for everyone or, better yet, a major and minor league for everyone. This would allow men and women the chance to practice and gain notoriety on a large stage before turning pro.

There will be a female e-sports champion. Hopefully, her accomplishment will be made all the sweeter by the fact that she demolished men to get there. She will probably make millions in endorsements and have a statue of her erected somewhere. We just need to give her the time to develop and the opportunity to compete.

I don't mean to heap all the blame onto the IeSF. This is a new world for everyone. It isn't easy to set the rules and policies for an emerging sport or set of sports.

In fact, the IeSF had a pretty good reason for creating separate divisions for each gender. The federation is trying to propel e-sports to the Olympics, which does not feature any unisex events.

I certainly want to see video games played at the Olympics, but I think the gaming world can afford to let the Olympic Committee decide on the gender rules. If they are open to the revolutionary idea of adding games, then they may be willing to bend on this gender policy as well.

Instead, gamers and game companies should continue to focus on perfecting these new professional leagues, which don't have to be plagued by the labor issues and inequalities that plague other pro sports. My generation can help get this right from the very beginning.

Rory Appleton is a journalism major at Fresno State and a freelance gaming journalist. He can be reached at (559) 441-6015, rappleton@fresnobee.com or on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.

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