This morning I was shocked to find out that Blizzard's ambitious new esports league Overwatch League had absolutely no women competing. This news came a little late to me and I had to do some research. Personally, I am not a big fan of Overwatch but I had read some recent stats about Overwatch League.
Overwatch League launched recently with over 400,000 views on the first day. It has been reported that Twitch paid 90 million for the streaming rights. A has a quarter of the Twitch fanbase is women and Overwatch has a very diverse player audience, however, none of the 12 teams in Overwatch League have any women on the teams. Seeing that this is a big-time league with both Blizzard and Twitch behind this it is an outright shame to see this happen.
Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon is one of the top Overwatch players in the world and went on to become the first woman ever to play for a team in South Korea’s top league. Blizzard has tried to push both its Overwatch game and community as one of diversity, yet the pro scene’s most accomplished woman player is nowhere to be found in what is Overwatch's biggest moment.
I don't play Overwatch but I do play VR games and see VR as the future of eSports. If a problem of inclusion and diversity exists in one of the biggest games being streamed on one of the biggest platforms I do not want to see this passed over to VR.
Dan Fiden, president of Cloud9, the esports organization that sponsors one of the Overwatch League teams said in a statement to Kotaku that organizations need to play a role in making esports more welcoming and less toxic for players who aren’t men. He believes that involves starting from “the beginning.”
If it's not “the beginning.” of eSports well it is the beginning of VR eSports and this should not be repeated as that ecosystem grows. Esports, more than traditional sports, have a unique opportunity to really diversify the kind of competitors we get to see.
There are some that are pushing for more diversity in eSports and those heading the pro NBA2K eSports community have made this a core goal.
"Diversity is one of the most exciting parts to us. You know, you have to have some very serious level of athletic prowess to compete in the NBA. There's a different level of prowess with this. So, males, females, 18-year-olds, 27-year-olds, 80-year-olds, you know, that's the cool part about this for us. Everyone can participate, assuming they have the prowess of being able to play the game at that professional level. For us, it expands our video game audience, and I'm assuming that with the NBA it expands their audience as well, so that's one of the biggest, exciting parts of it for us." -2K's SVP of Basketball Operations Jason Argent
As we grow the VR community I want us all to be aware of not making the same mistakes. As VR eSports grow I want it to grow with diversity and inclusion in mind. To do this it will have to start awareness. Oculus has an amazing diversity program and as the future of VR grows I expect a push into eSport diversity.
Putting VR into the hands of more people will help diversify the demographics of users but VR evangelists need to be responsible for helping to shape a better future. Seeing first hand how much work Oculus has put into their diversity program has made me not want to see the VR industry repeat the past mistakes of the gaming world. At OC4 the best Echo Arena players had a chance to show us that VR eSports can be the future. Going forward I just want all of us involved in the growth of VR to show that the world of VR is best through diversity and opportunity.
I really don't have an answer on how to address the future of diversity in VR eSports but I would like to get the conversation started so the future of VR is as bright as we want it to be.