Smite, sexism and the soul of esports

Great article at Polygon, looking into the position of women in esports and the abuse they’re receiving.

Every coaching position she’s held has come with abuse. There’s the European rival who thinks it’s funny to goad her with extravagant compliments about her appearance. There’s the South American player who promises to kiss her when they meet at a live event. There’s the Israeli player who said he didn’t want her advice because she’s a woman. And there’s the countless spectators who spew insults at her through social media and streaming feeds.

But there are also those who recognize her abilities, including her players, other top coaches, senior people at Smite publisher Hi-Rez Studios and commentators who recognize the stamp of her tactics and her influence on improving teams.

Aside from the Baghdad Bobs in gaming, we all know the gaming world – and by extension, esports – isn’t exactly the most welcoming environment for women. Luckily, it’s starting to dawn on the companies in esports, such as Hi-Rez discussed in the linked article, that things need to change, and that steps need to be made to significantly curb the misogyny and abuse.

The League of Legends world championships, the most popular esports event in the world, just concluded this weekend. One weekend earlier, the semifinals were held in Brussels. One quite prominent figure in the League of Legends esports community, presenter and interviewer Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, is from Belgium, and parent company Riot took the opportunity to play a fantastic spotlight of her at the start of the event, in front of 17000 people and the millions of viewers around the world. The video details the work that she does, and the prominent way in which the spotlight was played – just before the semifinals started – really drove the point home just how important she’s become.

In an article posted today, Depoortere recalled the moment the video was played.

Sjokz had her own fair share of cherished moments throughout the weekend, particularly when a video feature about her life in Belgium and her work at Riot aired in the 17,000-seat arena. “It was very emotional!” she says. “I hadn’t thought through that I would be on stage listening to myself! I felt kind of embarrassed, because I thought, ‘Oh, these people have to sit through it,’ but all the people were quiet. They were actually listening and watching and it was an extremely heartwarming moment for me.”

The feature touched on some less savoury aspects of being a successful, high-profile woman in a male-dominated industry, particularly sexism and a lack of respect for Sjokz’s work, but since it aired she has received a huge influx of support. Even from people who have been less than pleasant in the past. “Some of them wrote to me and they said, ‘Hey, I’m actually very sorry. I didn’t realise what I was doing. I really respect your work.'”

We’re a long way off from women being treated matter-of-factly universally throughout esports in particular and gaming in general, but it’s at least encouraging to see that steps are being taken. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually see women players feel secure and safe enough to compete at the highest levels.


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