E-sports rises in the 21st century and it becomes one of the most popular sport in the world. Despite its popularity and accessibility, female gamers are often stereotyped by the e-sports community as e-girls. E-girls are commonly referred to female gamers who tend to demonstrate explicit behaviors while streaming on Twitch, and usually rely on queuing with famous streamers to gain publicity and promote their own channels.
Stereotyping and gender discrimination exists in almost every sport, while e-sports is a more modern sport and involve a larger and younger community, females still seem to be the victim and being portrayed as ‘e-girls’ because they have worse skills than males. (Kaye et al., 2018) They are also attached with a certain ‘femininity’ when it comes to gender representations where female gamers should be playing support or girly characters and let the males to win the game, which are topics that should be dealt with in this modern, digitalized sport. This article will analyze the relationship between objectification of e-girls and female self-empowerment through such objectification, and provide a brief analysis on how femininity is being stereotyped in e-sports.
Background and definition of E-girls
The phrase itself was introduced back in 2014, when games like League of Legends are getting a huge influx of players, more and more players started streaming because of how profitable it is. Streamers are iterations of Youtubers, where they have to attract audiences in a certain way, while most of the streamers are known for their skills, some female streamers, for example Kaceytron and PokiMane in League of Legends scene which I will discuss later in the article, are known for their explicit behaviors, exaggerated reactions during their streams. E-girl the term itself consists the negative assumption towards female gamers, Lee (2017) has mentioned the common traits of e-girls in her article and explained why such polarizing term should not be used to further promote the female discrimination in e-sports.
How females are being stereotyped in e-sports
The worst stereotype I have observed is that the e-sports community tend to look down on female gamers, where they should be inferior players simply because they are females. Even though some female players reached the highest level, for example Challenger in League of Legends or Grandmaster in Overwatch, they are getting accused of cheating, Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon is definitely the perfect example of how such stereotypes are carried out and the hidden barrier of females getting into professional e-sports. Females are more often considered as a casual and less skilled player, but never the ‘hardcore’ player. (Paaßen et al., 2017) And this is the reason why people are shocked when they see female players being ranked in the top percentile.
Photo credit to New Jersey Digital Highway
Females were always portrayed as a supportive role in the traditional society, this stereotype seems to be neutralized in the modern society. However, it is brought up again in the e-sports community, where most male gamers are expecting female players to be the support or healer in a team. Lee (2017) mentioned females are also expected to play attractive or cute characters only, which is illogical because of the stereotyping. Lee also pointed out how their team and the community will verbal abuse females that are playing a ‘male-dominant’ role, such as assassins.
Some girls, like me, started playing with experienced friends and support was the only open role among their friends who mained other positions. Some main assassins, but don’t mention it in game because if they did, the entire tone of the game chat changes to something disgusting and toxic.
Females are always the focus of e-sports community due to the traditional stereotype where males play a lot more video games than females. Because of this, female gamers that don’t want the attention tend to hide their identities, leaving the ones that do being classified as e-girls, because they are ‘actively’ drawing attention with their persona.
Streaming as a business and self-empowerment through objectifying themselves
Remember the conflict between feminist and Formula 1 grid girls a few months ago? Cambrige’s article (2018) has demonstrated the conflicts between self-empowerment and feminist approach on objectification. From F1 grid girls’ perspective, they love their jobs and they believe their passion towards motorsport should overweigh other’s opinions. Besides, they should not be judged and lose their jobs because of the ‘so-called feminists’ comments, especially when those feminists’ did not consider their opinions and feelings. While for the feminist perspective, women should not be objectifying themselves because of a profession as it might further encourage sexual objectification. Fredrickson and Robert’s article (1997) has mentioned the objectification theory concepts, including the sexual objectification towards women’s body, objectifying gaze that was possessed by media and the mental risks that were brought by the above objectification. Although both perspectives have their own arguments, I believe it should all come down to one’s own decision, in this case it will be the grid girls, as long as they enjoy what they are doing and comfortable with it, they should not be criticized by other feminists’ simply because they think it is violating.
Back to e-sports streaming, I will be using Kaceytron, one of the famous League of Legends female streamer, to analyze how similar concepts should be applied and provide different perspectives to help understand their purposes. If you have ever played League of Legends and watched some streamer’s gameplay, you will probably know who Kaceytron is, especially 2 years ago, when she is frequently featured on reddit or other streamers. Kaceytron might seem irritative to some people because of her brand, ‘Twitch Slut’, a brand that she developed herself as a business model. (D’Anastasio, 2018) She is the first female that admitted such branding and her decisions on showing her body is a way to promote her channel in the streaming industry. Despite facing a lot of criticisms due to Kacey’s moves, she is even more empowered because of the upset and freaks the community has shown.
From Kacey’s perspective, she loves gaming and understands how objectifying herself can fuel her own business. She is also fine with words that downgrade women and even use them as a self-promotion strategy. While from other streamers’ perspectives, which i will assume them as the experts or true gamers as mentioned in Paaßen’s article (2017), these female streamers are harming the e-sports community because they don’t need the actual skills to prove themselves but through the objectification of their bodies, which drains a lot of viewers from the ‘experts’ channels. Grayson’s article highlighted a comment from a YouTuber called Mannix, where the explicit behaviors on Twitch should be banned because of the sexual objectification purpose.
In my opinion, Kacey has operated her business model perfectly, she understands what she is doing and she acknowledges the criticism and toxicity as a kind of self-empowerment, because of the nature of streaming, or digital production in general. Attention is everything you need as a digital content producer, as long as you get the attention, no matter it is good or bad, it fuels your revenue and further promotes your channel. Just like Logan Paul, he was heavily criticized because of the outrageous suicide clip, and now he is playing with Ninja, one of the most successful streamers in e-sports history, last week on Fortnite, resulting over 100,000 viewers in his newly setup channel. Kacey understands the logic behind and goes with the self-objectification move to promote herself. I think that as long as Kacey, or other female streamers do not possess the mental risks that were mentioned in Fredrickson’s article (1997), they should be respected of what they are doing because they are comfortable with it and use it as a self-empowerment tool. You can choose to not watch or support their channels, but you can’t deny their rights to promote themselves through objectification.
Alternatives to female participation in e-sports
It will be difficult for the e-sports community to be respectful because of their anonymity, same as the content producers on Youtube due to the difference of likes and views they are getting by featuring females in their videos. It doesn’t mean things cannot be changed simply because it’s hard to change people’s mindset, specifically the stereotype towards female gamers. Game companies and famous streamers should initiate professionalism because of their identities and influences to the e-sports community. They should be the role model that shows respect to female players, if needed, game companies or streaming channels can initiate suspensions or punishments to streamers that intentionally harass other streamers or being hateful to female. (Grayson, 2017) Although there is still a lot of flaws in Twitch’s suspension system from Grayson’s (2017) example, i do believe game companies and streaming channels will collaborate on such policies in the future and encourage female participation in e-sports.
Photo credit to Pokimane Youtube channel
Another alternative that the community and media should be working on is that they should not treat female streamers differently, it is outrageous to highlight female gamers’ activities on purpose.
Female stereotypes is something that we have to tackle as a part of the e-sports community, it is an unhealthy trend for females to hide their identities in game because of the verbal offences towards their them, they should be respected just like every other gamer. While e-girls is perceived negatively by most e-sports community, their rights should not be denied and their way to empower themselves should be respected. Or else it is nothing different from traditional sports discrimination towards cheerleaders or grid girls. (Grindstaff & West, 2006)
How should we minimize or eliminate the stereotype of female gamers in e-sports?
What is your opinion on female streamers achieving self-empowerment through objectifying themselves?
Shall game companies, or even governments enforce regulations on verbal abusive comments in video games or the Internet in general?
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