Females: The Hidden eSports Audience - Part 2


Females: The Hidden eSports Audience - Part 2

Women In eSports Panel At IEM (Photo: ESL)

TNL Take: In Part 1, we looked at the various ways that Female participation and audience is growing within eSports.

Anykey, a partnership between ESL and Intel, will "create more opportunities and inclusive spaces, whilst advocating for the underrepresented members of competitive communities" like women, minorities and the LGBTQ community.

In Part 2 today, I spoke to 2 Women in Gaming and eSports: Petya Zheleva, founder of SKYLLA, a Counter-Strike tournament series featuring both Men and Women eSports Athletes and ClaudKill, an eSports Athlete and streamer for their thoughts on the space.

Petya Zheleva, Founder of SKYLLA (Photo: Petya Zheleva)


I looked at 8 different eSports research studies over the past year and the average shows almost 25% of the audience are Females – does this number surprise you and why isn’t this more public?  

PZ: The recent reports showed that more than 48% of all gamers are women. However, when we slightly move the focus on eSports and competitive gaming, the figures are drastically different.

Women represent only about 9% of the competitive scene (CS:GO), but since there are no real reports and data for their performance, this small community doesn't have that much of visibility. Information is hard to find and the media coverage for women in competitive gaming is usually poor. 

There are more and more women who are trying to make their way into the competitive gaming, but the process is slow, and it takes time. Same as the lower skilled male teams, the female teams are still trying to catch up with the fast pace of eSports.


Now like most things, once money starts playing a factor, people start to take notice. That 25% figure compares nicely with EA’s stated figure of “25-28%” of their customers are Female. With very basic estimates, if EA made over $4B in 2015 – that’s potentially almost a $1B being spent on EA products by Females – that’s not small. Do you think $ moving into eSports will help drive this further?

PZ: Of course. Funding and sponsorships have always been the main driven force in eSports. In my eyes, the development of the competitive scene depends heavily on sponsorships and on the passion of the gamers.

At the beginning of the eSports era, many companies couldn't find the potential of this industry, because of its small market, but fortunately for all of us, the situation is improving very fast, and we are witnessing the growth of eSports before our eyes. 

In the past 1-2 years, we observed a very rectilinear channeling of resources, and only certain parts of eSports could benefit from the infusion of money in the industry. Hopefully, with the time, things will improve and more companies will begin to support the eSports scene outside of the huge arenas, where the skill level and the exposure might be lower, but the passion and the goals are still the same – to enjoy the favorite game and to win.


One thing that concerns me is the potential “WNBA affect”. Most people don’t know that the majority of WNBA fans are actually Male – about 55%.  Is that a potential issue with female only leagues? 

PZ: Yes, I am afraid that the lack of awareness of women in the competitive eSports scene, which we currently see, will most likely have this effect. There are no official researches and reports about the viewership or the fan base of the competitive female gaming scene, and such details and data are not accessible at all.

This lapse automatically decreases the available information and the amount of potential online content for the female scene (which could be used by many websites and companies), moreover instead of using such data to facilitate and improve the situation, we just wipe it out, because it is “not a big factor” for the global eSports market. 

The other aspect of this problem is that, same as the community members, the companies and organizations interested to find more about women in eSports, are still not able to follow up and to get proper information online. The lack of support by Media companies is a key problem for this niche of gamers, and those who could connect the dots for a better and more diverse online community, are very often the first to neglect the opportunity.


Further, although SKYLLA combines both men and women – the mens teams are “lower ranked”. Does that cause a potential quality argument also? 

PZ: SKYLLA is a grassroots tournament, and one of our main objectives is to provide a stage for up and coming CS:GO teams, regardless of their tier. The high skilled teams are not a target for SKYLLA and have never been.

This is also what makes our project so different. The tournament is not only aiming to improve the skill level of the Female teams, but also to support and provide exposure for lower tier male teams. We saw many talented players performing incredibly well in SKYLLA in the past 7 months, and I am happy that we gave the opportunity to these players and showed them one more reason to be serious about following their goals in eSports.

“Quality” is a relative characteristic and more often than not, we see people having a different spectrum of preferences when it comes to online video content. What is interesting to some is not interesting to others, and vice versa. In eSports we forgot very fast how the first tournaments looked like and about the sweaty internet cafes, where every won game counted as a Major.

We shouldn’t allow the success of some to undermine the progress of others, and it will all happen step by step. Those who are interested in women in the competitive esports will keep following the available games and tournaments online. Our task is to get more people to watch eSports, but give them the freedom to choose what they like, and diversity to pick from.  With a little bit of attention, everything could start working, and things can improve very fast.


What are your long term goals and objectives for Skylla? 

PZ: With the growth of eSports, there will be more and more new players and teams in the CS:GO scene. These new players, same as every other player, will be striving to reach to the top of the rank lists and to become professional players. Our goal at SKYLLA is to act as a proving ground for these new teams, and to create a friendly environment where they could compete, learn and have fun while playing their favorite game.

Me and Tom Lemke founded SKYLLA in March 2016, and for a short period, we also had Hege “Hedge” Botnen on board. Currently I am the operating person behind SKYLLA and everything around the tournament. As a former CS 1.6 professional player, I am carrying my passion for female gaming since I was 18 years old.

During this time, I experienced most of the negative aspects of being a woman in eSports, the bad way, and looking for solutions of the core problems in order to overcome personal challenges, became a natural reaction for me. Many female players endorsed our tournament, and many teams applied to participate in the monthly editions. My hopes are that SKYLLA will manage to secure resources to continue with Season 2 in 2017 and that we will achieve our goals, because there is still much to be done for these upcoming teams and much to be taken from this competition as a result.


One more point with the WNBA, when you look at their sponsor list – while of course all products can be bought by females – it seems very “male heavy” if that’s appropriate (Adidas, Bud Light, etc.) or another way – no major Female forward brand sticks out. As Fortune 500 Brands enter eSports – what’s the one brand you would like to see focused on the women’s eSports space?

PZ: I don't understand why there should be a gender segregation when it comes to companies and sponsors too. All other companies involved in eSports (or not yet) are partly dependent on the eSports community, which is a mixture of all gamers.

There shouldn’t be a difference, unless we speak about specific products, and everyone is welcome to invest in eSports. I am certain that the market, where SKYLLA is at the moment, will become very appealing to bigger brands in the very near future, especially to the companies that have goals to contribute to the growth of the competitive gaming scene in particular, and that could mean that in five years we will be competing over completely different areas in eSports.


eSports Athlete and Streamer ClaudKill (Photo: ClaudKill)


My analysis of 8 Research studies showed that women are now 25% of the eSports audience. Why don’t people know this yet?

CK: I would argue that the female audience is even larger than 25% and that we don’t yet have sufficient evidence to support it. I think the the general public isn’t aware of it, because video games and the industry on its own has largely always been marketed to men and for that reason, the general idea is that it is made up of mostly males.

Additionally, I think the old norm used to be that girls play with dolls and engage with more girly activities, while boys play with trucks and more violent video games, but as we’ve seen, that’s not necessarily true. We also aren’t aware of how many Females are involved in eSports because the interaction is online and people can keep their identity and gender anonymous.

Some women prefer to use gamertags and screen names that would not exclusively label them as a female to avoid the attitudes and harassing comments that they receive from other players online. I know for myself, for the first two years that I played competitively online I used a gamertag that kept my gender anonymous.  I played in lobbies with Males who assumed I was a little boy because of my high pitched voice. It felt better to hide under a guise because I wouldn’t be scrutinized or harassed for being a female and I could continue to enjoy the game like anyone else.


Women unfortunately can’t compete in Football - but they can in Counter-Strike - doesn’t that level the playing ground for “Sports” going forward?

CK: I don’t think it levels the playing field for “Sports” moving forward because it should all around be inclusive, especially in countries that preach gender equality. I think there is less investment in women in rougher Sports because of the argument and concern of viewership and ratings (for example, the WNBA) - which is largely why I think it is harder to get support for women to compete in sports such as Football.

Not to mention the countless criticisms involving the roughness of the sport and whether a Female’s body can out perform that of a Male. Personally, it is harder to remain neutral and comment on women playing rougher sports because I played Rugby at the collegiate level. From my experience, I think women are just as capable. I witnessed it first hand by playing a violent sport that often left my body covered in blood, bruises, and scars. I think leveling the playing field in eSports involves more women playing in teams and tournaments that are not exclusively Female.

Lately, I’ve seen leagues and organizations picking up all Female teams instead of considering co-ed teams. Sure, the league or organization brings attention to these Female players, but they largely only scrim and compete against other Females, which is not helpful. The majority of the teams in open-bracket tournaments are Male, and in order to beat the competition and gain recognition, is to practice playing and competing against the same individuals you will face in an actual all-inclusive tournament.

Lately, I have seen the small addition of some co-ed teams with one or two Female players, and I applaud those teams in eSports because they are making a difference and proving that Female players can easily be as versatile and strong as a Male player. Hopefully soon we will see one make it into the Pro circuit and prove that Female players are just as capable as Males to be Pros.


If you could have one Female focused Brand invest in eSports who would it be? (Mine would be Dove)

CK: Honestly, I would also have to go with Dove for my choice as well. Dove has been a brand that the past couple of years has launched campaigns to empower girls. In my opinion, Dove is the most forward thinking brand right now because of how outspoken they have been in regards to issues of gender relations and sports.

Their #LikeAGirl movement highlighted the ways girls are criticized and treated in sport environments. Additionally, their emoji campaign criticized companies, like Apple, that exclude the image of girls and women in professional roles in their emoji selection(such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and athletes). As a brand that is fighting to show that girls are capable of anything, if not better than men, I think they would be a great brand to invest in eSports Female audience.


There are now 20+ colleges giving out eSports scholarships. College is expensive. When I spoke to a Mom who had a son go to school and asked “That must be awesome to save some money, she said No. Her son spent 6 years in his room by himself and no one gave him love in high school. Now he gets to wear a Collegiate Sports Jersey and have a group of friends he can relate to. Are young women next?

Most of these eSports scholarships function the same as athletic scholarships, which both Male and Female athletes receive. I think the reason why we don’t see Female players receiving them is because they are not seen as much within the leagues, so they aren’t looked at as a possible investment by these schools. I think the more Females become involved in the eSports scene, and the more successful they become in placing higher at tournaments, the more likely it will be for them to receive eSports scholarships.


Thank you both for your time.