Women in Esports

In a break from my typical design-analysis subject matter, I’d like to use this post as a platform to spark a discussion about the status and role of women in Esports. If you, the reader, feel any animosity toward this subject as a topic of openminded discussion, you might wish to take a moment to ask yourself why that is.

In traditional sports, the need for a gender separation is obvious. The different effects of testosterone vs. estrogen on muscle development are pronounced and undeniable. In competitions of strength and speed, then, it is clear that women should not be expected to be directly competitive with similarly talented and dedicated male opponents. In competitive gaming, this biological disparity falls away. Winning a competitive match in gaming has nothing to do with strength and usually quite little to do with speed of the type enhanced by muscle development. The freedom to employ any control scheme/sensitivity further suggests that testosterone is not a direct biological advantage in the way that it is in traditional sports. All this, of course, only begs the question of why it is that women are so rare in professional play.

Last year, the first and only cisgendered female professional Overwatch player (as far as I know) was signed to South Korean Esports organization UW Artisan. Even if there are more female Overwatch pros of whom I am not aware, they are certainly few and far between. Geguri is a highly talented flex-tank player, and her impressive aiming ability and overall skill secured her a spot on a salaried professional team. This should come as no surprise; strong players are signed to professional teams all the time. And yet, Geguri is of course special for the simple fact that she was and continues to be such a rarity as a woman in Esports. Her story (which I will return to later in the article) mirrors that of a very small number of other trans- and cisgendered women who have advanced to the highest competitive levels in their respective games. This article seeks to embark on an even handed analysis of why it has taken so long for women to breach the highest echelons of competitive gaming. These reasonings are neither complete nor necessarily empirically verifiable, but hopefully they pique readers’ interest in investigating further in their own experiences.


The most plausible candidate to explain the lack of female representation in Esports is demographic differences. While the market for games in general has shifted dramatically in the last decade to near-parity across genders, this does not hold true across all subdivisions. First Person Shooter (FPS) games are one of the most significantly skewed genres; young male target marketing demographics have been the norm for decades and have shaped the expectations of the industry. Overwatch is, in my view, the first FPS game that has truly sought to expand its playerbase beyond the expected demographic of the genre. The vast majority of FPS games are semi-realistic war simulations in which the protagonist is exclusively male. Beyond this simple fact, the marketing for these titles very clearly targets the young and male demographic beginning with advertising placement and continuing all the way through design appeal.

I don’t contend that the marketing for games in the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises is somehow nefarious, rather I suggest that the industry has artificially reinforced the expectation that FPS games will always draw the attention and interest of male gamers. Since Overwatch is the first FPS title with player-base demographics that represent anything close to gender parity, one might expect to see more women rising to the top of the competitive scene. However, presently the overwhelming majority of professional Overwatch players are male. Another fact about the overwhelming majority of professional Overwatch players is that nearly all of us played a previous FPS title at a professional or at least intensely competitive level. I think, though, that gender parity in professional play is going to take some time given the past-professional experience that seems to be nearly a prerequisite to playing professional Overwatch at this moment in the game’s lifespan. If Overwatch is your first competitive FPS title, you are very unlikely to go pro relative to those with past experience. In other words: almost every pro player was already a pro in another game prior to Overwatch’s release. Even though more women are playing FPS games now with the release of Overwatch, it is the demographics of previous FPS titles that are being represented in the set of current professional players. The lack of female pros in those previous titles can be explained to a significant degree by the radical disparity between male and female player bases.

Cultural Norms & Bias:

It can be challenging to write about sexism in online (particularly gaming) contexts. Virtually everyone in Esports (myself included) would love for the sport to embody a perfect meritocracy wherein the best of the best are rewarded for their talent and dedication in precise measure. The reality, however, is much less rosy. Starting in the experience of every day players and criss-crossing the path to professional stardom lies a significant and undeniably gendered bias. Some friends of mine have reported that they choose not to communicate with teammates in Ranked Matchmaking for fear of being ostracized or harassed. Others choose to employ a voice changer or imply to teammates that they are in fact teenage males. It is the rare woman who defies these norms and fearlessly communicates strategy in voice chat (the only practical method of strategic communication). Sadly, it seems clear from the reactions when they do speak out that many players do not like listening to what their female teammates have to say. This is not universal, but it doesn’t have to be to create an expectation of toxicity.

Here the story of Geguri’s rise to professional signing is a powerful example. Although very talented players are regularly accused of cheating prior to (and sometimes even after) offline validation, few receive the level of attention that Geguri experienced. Multiple South Korean professional players spoke out about the ‘fact’ that Geguri employed artificial assistance to play as well as she does. One even suggested that he would quit his professional career were she exonerated. It was only when Geguri played on a live stream with cameras showing her hand movement on mouse and keyboard that the accusations abated. I imagine the latter accuser felt quite sheepish at this moment. Compared alongside the experience of a player like Dafran, any illusion of parity fades away. Despite popping up into the scene without any warning as perhaps the most mechanically talented competitor to ever play the game, no one publicly accused Dafran of cheating. There were some rumors as is to be expected from such a formidable talent, yet I couldn’t find a single professional player making anything close to the kind of accusations that Geguri was receiving. This comparison is imperfect because it exists across regions (Dafran is a North American player and Geguri plays from South Korea), yet it should nonetheless push an openminded reader to ask themselves if Esports really is such a perfect meritocracy. Many South Korean (male) pros display impressive talents in online play without attracting such confident accusers.

While I would refrain from defending the idea that its impossible for women to play games like Overwatch at a high competitive level under these conditions, it is clear to all who see with eyes unclouded that a gendered disparity exists. While I don’t think that communication or teamwork are in fact necessary to reach something like the 95th or 99th percentile, I can’t help but think this norm of invalidating female players discourages many from trying to go pro. If the vast majority of your experience of online play included teammates nakedly disrespecting your abilities and understanding, a professional competitive career would hardly seem like the next logical step. Going pro is virtually never a happenstance moment of luck, rather it is most often the result of a consciously set goal and a tireless dedication to improvement and growth. If some percentage of women are disincentivized from setting such a goal by these cultural norms, then the norms are at least partially to blame for the gender gap.

Personally, my experience has suggested that these biases exist (and perhaps even become more intense) all the way up through the highest echelons of professional play. In a crucial way, though, these biases are connected to demographics as well as external society. As the player base for FPS titles becomes more and more evenly spread across genders and as society continues to make progress on accepting women as full equals, I hope that these biases will melt away into history.


I believe that it’s important here to bring into the light the underpinnings of these biases. Many people still believe that, for all the societal progress of the last century, men are fundamentally more capable or more intelligent than women. For these people, the lack of female representation at the highest levels of competition is only a warrant for their position. Rather than examining the wider picture, they find it much easier to reject the potential for progress. I sense that some of these people are threatened by equality and the emasculation that it potentially represents.

I can’t help but also believe that positive change in this area will benefit not only women but all participants in and fans of competitive gaming. If it is the case that some of these structural elements have discouraged talented women from pursuing professional careers, then it is also the case that the level of competition is not where it could potentially be. When Bill Gates spoke at a summit in Saudia Arabia on modernizing the Middle East for economic growth and business development, he was asked what would hold Saudi Arabia back from its goal of being a top 10 technology leader by 2010. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.”

Let us not be the Saudi Arabia of professional competition. It is the responsibility of everyone who loves Esports to create the meritocracy that is so patently within reach. Banishing the basement-dweller, women-hater stereotypes associated with competitive gaming is also a powerful rebuke to those who reject the core potential of Esports. This can be as simple as not harassing or mocking female teammates in online play. Being a ‘white knight’, however, can be just as repressive and quite cringe-y too. The solution is quite simple: treat female players the same way you would treat anyone else. Dear reader, I’m confident that you can do it.

P.S. Discussion here on the blog site itself is moderated by me; please be respectful with whatever opinions you wish to express.

26 thoughts on “Women in Esports”

  1. I believe Overwatch has the potential to be a game free from these stereotypes and gender biases. Back in the days when I played Call of Duty I would read “gay” as an insult pretty much every game, probably ten times. In this context it is quite hard, if not impossible, to object this kind of insult, cause then you wouldn’t have any time left to play.
    Overwatch however, is not the same. And the rarity of this kind of insult, as well as sexist ones, makes it possible not to let it go. If it is possible, then I think it becomes our duty.


  2. I did like this article. However, I do believe an important piece may have been missed out. There are structures in place that mlbias the player base to mostly male players. In the same way, I believe that women have a tendency to play the game in a certain way that acts as a soft ceiling for them advancing to the pro scene. Mainly, in my opinion women tend to play support characters more often. Further, the support character I have seen played more often than not is mercy. Not to say that all do, (I know franplayshalo mains Anna) I have just observed a tendency towards that in my games. I don’t know how eSports teams choose their candidates, however I don’t believe they are looking for players who are seemingly less flexible. Again I’m not saying all behave this way, however, I am saying that there is enough of a tendency towards to warrant noting it.


    1. Gabe, do you think that the disproportionate number of female players who play mercy might also be connected to societal expectations? One of the points Jake brought up was that men can feel threatened by female players and be toxic to the mas a result. Certainly a female player who instalocks dps – a role which relies on dominating your opponents with superior skill – would be much more likely to threaten those people’s masculinity than someone playing mercy – a character dedicated entirely to enabling her teammates. Just a thought.


      1. i’ve discussed this with my girlfriend (for context, i am also a girl. both her and i play primarily DPS roles) about the support role – while the “societal expectation” or “maternal instinct/association” may certainly have females leaning towards support roles, i also argued that it might be lack of FPS gaming experience. lack of having played shooters at a young age, like many young males today. i, currently 23 years old, have been playing shooters since i was 10. back in the 2000s, that was nearly UNHEARD of, for a female to be playing Halo on xbox. my girlfriend had played CS:GO for about a year before picking up Overwatch. my other friend (also female) picked up Overwatch, and it was clearly her first serious FPS game on PC. i say serious because i’m discounting times she might have played call of duty once or twice at a friend’s house, that kind of thing. but she stuck to heroes like Lucio and Mercy because she admitted she couldn’t aim. she also lacked the reaction speed and game sense that comes with playing years of FPS. several of the support roles inherently do not require mechanical aim to contribute to your team. meanwhile, my girlfriend and i, who both have a denser experience in playing FPS and are used to the intensity, play DPS roles with confidence.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is pretty much exactly the effect I was trying to get at in the article. I think its especially pronounced when a (female) gamer picks up Overwatch as her first FPS because she wants to play with friends. No one wants to feel like they are dragging down the team, so these players will naturally gravitate to roles that don’t require as much traditional FPS skill. Games like COD or Halo don’t have this option, so everyone playing is going to improve their FPS skills over time as opposed to OW wherein its just the DPS players.


  3. I would also quickly like to say that I am glad a game came along that allows for players with preferences towards different styles of play to excel (i.e tank play, support DPS, etc). I for one always hated games like COD cause of how terrible I was at DPS, which is mainly how those games play. So I believe that because of the structure of overwatch it will one of the first games that really acts as a platform for female gamers to go pro. That along with the positive and diverse representation of characters both male and female in the OW world.


  4. Amazing article as always, Jake. Hit the nail on the head as usual. I truly hope we can achieve a society where we have a healthy diversity of player demographics in games like Overwatch. I’m optimistic but I think it will take a lot of time.
    In response to what Gabe has said above, I think you have to look into a huge cultural issue to explain why women play support more often. First, you have to take into account what Jake has said above about women having a lack of experience and history in general in FPS games. The number one thing this means is that most women, when they come to play OW, are not good at aiming. They simply don’t have the practice on similar games and the skill sets acquired from those games because they’re alienated from them. Though it’s not a direct correlation, most DPS heroes require good aim whereas supports like Mercy, for example, require no tracking or hitscan abilities – and thus are more easily accessible for people new to FPS games e.g. women.
    Then, there’s the societal fact that women in general are taught to be submissive and non-confrontational and often to bow down to male desire. Men, meanwhile, are told to be aggressive and assertive. Right off the bat, you can see how this would lead to men playing DPS more often. Most OW games end up in a position where everyone insta-locks DPS and no one wants to play tank or, in particular, support. Women often end up picking support because they want to facilitate a good game and make everyone happy, as they’re told they should be doing. Also DPS is a role that is the subject of a lot of scrutiny and aggression. Often to play DPS you have to stubbornly stick with your pick even in the face of your teammates telling you to swap off because you suck or demanding to play that hero instead of you. And whenever a game goes badly, inevitably the DPS get blamed. In an environment where women are treated toxicly just for being women anyways, you can see why girls would shy away from even trying to learn DPS, let alone trying to main it and sticking with it because it would be an absolute hellish journey for them.
    Furthermore, there’s the stereotype that women are “bad at games” and so any mistake or slip-up (which every single one of us will make 10 times every game) is pounced upon and pronounced when made by a woman. So it would make sense that women would stay away from DPS, which is the most scrutinised role, in fear of not only the abuse, but also of fulfilling the stereotype and being attacked for it. It’s the same thing you see in stand-up comedy for example, where the stereotype of women “not being funny” results in female comedians being held to a much higher standard than their male counterparts. Their room for being unfunny is much smaller, in the same way that the scope for women to make mistakes in esports is much less forgiving.
    The point of all of this is that, yes women play support more often but it’s cultural reasons why they do so, not biological ones. If we lived in a society which encouraged girls in a broader sense and treated them the same way as we do our boys, then they’d feel more confident in going for DPS roles i.e. the ‘star’ role. They’d not only have an FPS upbringing to benefit them in games like OW but would also be more assertive and brazen in their picks and about their own ability. Not to mention, they wouldn’t be additionally harassed for it. Atm, playing support is just the path of least confrontation.


    1. I agree. Personally, I’m pretty good at DPS having years of experience but I’m a support main. This is basically because I don’t want to be criticized or to have to justify myself even more than I already do for even playing the game in the first place. And also, I want the game to be fun and losing isn’t fun, and in my experience and anecdotes women are far more likely to look at the team comp and think “I should change” instead of asking someone else to, and not just because of harassment but because of the way we’ve been socialized.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Not sure if you’re going to answer this Jake, but as a big fan here’s what I have to say:

    “Many people still believe that, for all the societal progress of the last century, men are fundamentally more capable or more intelligent than women.”

    I think it has a lot more to do with preference than ability, personally. Sure, there’s potentially stuff about reaction time or some other physical difference, but let’s be real here for a moment: FPS games are about killing people for no good reason except to show that you’re better than them. It’s not surprising that the same demographic you would recruit to fight a real war – young men – is interested in going to fight a fake war inside of a video game. And sure, you had occasional women who went to fight along with them (even disguising themselves to do so), but most women were pretty much content to stay at home and leave the fighting to the men. Heck, the U.S. still doesn’t have a gender-equal draft, and last I heard no crusaders for gender equality were trying to fix that. (Actually, Ted Cruz tried, but that’s another story).

    Bottom line is, it can be argued that the marketing for these games is geared towards a demographic, but I think it’s still reasonable to assume that this demographic is most interested in actually playing the game. Moreover, I have a feeling they’re also more interested in playing it at a serious, competitive level. That’s especially true since one of the main reasons to do this is to assert dominance and superiority. I know that you’re not necessarily about that, but think of all the male Esports (and real sports) players with giant egos who think that they’re the greatest. I know I personally try to be the best because I feel insecure if I’m looked down upon or disrespected. Not even that it makes me feel bad, just that it makes me feel insecure.

    Now, Overwatch has to some degree managed to close the gender gap. On the other hand, Overbuff states that the most-picked hero is Mercy, at a rate of 12.5%, or about 1 in 8. I can’t speak to how many of those players are women, but if you assume that most of them are, then it tells you that Overwatch attracted a lot of female players by allowing them to play outside of the traditional FPS role. I guess TF2 offered players the Medic role, not sure if that worked similarly (and I can’t find info on TF2 player demographics). But the bottom line is, I think these differences in preferences are real, not societally induced, and they’re not going away. That doesn’t speak to how women in gaming should be treated, but I don’t want people to think that there will ever be a 50/50 representation.

    Also, as to the story of Geguri, apparently her accusers didn’t know she was a girl. It’s just that she has a super-high sensitivity, so she jerks her screen around all the time, combined with really good aim. A really jerky screen + super-good aim is usually the mark of an aimbot. And the latter accuser probably did feel sheepish, but he also made good on his promise and quit.


  6. I wouldn’t directly assert there to exist absolutely no difference in the neural biology of the separate sexes, nor would I assert the opposite that some in the community seem to have (That there exists an overpowering difference). Plenty of studies on the topic of intelligence as differentiated by gender seem so contradicted by one another, where one might suggest such a difference, another presents a case in which such difference is negated by simply asking participants to imagine themselves as a stereotypical member of their respective opposite gender (Even for spatial intelligence, as read on MITadmissions blog – “Picture yourself as a stereotypical male”). Ultimately, this article is particularly well written in that it acknowledges the evident social factors that would exclude a pool of talent regardless of such potential distributional differences, and that in order for a competitive scene to prosper it ought to do its best to avoid the social factors, so that others too can do their best in spite of them. Thank you for writing, and good on you for noting that “white knighting” can be a repressive factor too, amongst many. Great to encourage discussion on this topic, I hope it moves things forward.


  7. Jake, thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this article. As a female gamer, (a gamer since I started playing sega genesis at the tender age of 5) and as a passionate esports fan, this motion means a lot. Not a lot of prominent figures have the nerves to write about women in esports. And when it happens, it usually turns ugly. However, I found this to be a positive read, and would love to add to the discussion.

    I hope to offer my experiences growing up in a male-dominated space playing video games from console to PC as additional commentary to support some of your claims. I will say I’m surprised there are no other anecdotes from female players in your post! It can seem like a head-scratcher if there’s a post about women in esports yet not a single woman was approached for her opinion/experiences to enrich the post. Then again, as you said: this is but a spark for a discussion.

    I am indeed more of a social-thinking person. I don’t always lean on scientific research or studies that prove biological bits and bobs. In fact, when it comes to discussing exclusively gender roles and sexuality, I tend to exclude those kinds of “genetic differences.” Often these sources are cited by people who don’t really believe in chipping away at the social conditioning that breeds gender disparity. While sources may prove there are minute differences in the brain and more tangible differences in the physical body, it would be a sad, sad excuse to allow this gap in genders remain. I am a woman. I play games. I like games. I’m pretty good at games. I’ve beaten several male friends in FPS games and proved that I play harder than most of them. I am competitive, quick, and passionate about playing. I’ve spent 90% of my life playing video games on equal footing with men over and over. I would laugh if someone tried to justify gender gaps with nothing but a research paper. Am I an outlier in this numbers? An anomaly? Maybe. I also grew up with minimal social conditioning. I played with all the boys and got all the Bionicles instead of playing with the girls and getting all the Barbies. My parents never once had an issue with me wanting to buy a Nerf gun over a doll. I was extremely fortunate in that not once did the family and friends I grew up with pressure me to be more feminine, or that “this is for boys!” There was little to no social conditioning/pressure that I HAD to be feminine. I was never scared to just be whatever in-between I wanted. I am an example of what would happen if society held their tongue.

    Fast-forward to the present, to this article. I have indeed felt the narrow walls that the expectations and closed-mindedness that video games and esports suffers from when it comes to women. My girlfriend, who plays CSGO with a mic, gets berated for being a female (and top fragger!) in nearly every single game. It starts off not knowing which gender she is, since her voice is not exactly overly feminine. Automatically, the other players believe that her gender is IMPERATIVE and MUST be known. “Are you a girl? Are you a girl? Hey, babe, will you buy me an awp? r u a girl btw” It’s reflexive at this point! For whatever reason, people give a fuck about the gender of the person playing. That happens at ANY level of play. From professional to super casual. We cannot escape it. We can turn off all forms of communication, but obviously that’s extremely unfair. Report, block, rinse and repeat, what have you. The biggest excuse I get is, “It’s the internet! Grow a thick skin.” It is also the worst excuse. It enables toxicity to continue as is, taking zero responsibility. The environment is hostile! And more importantly, we are all responsible. Social conditioning and narrow-mindedness from the Beginning Of Civilization has led us to this point. It is discussions like these that are important for people to realize there is VERY little excuse to this gender disparity.

    What’s the solution? Stop caring that I’m a girl. Seriously. Stop. It doesn’t matter. Hasn’t mattered my entire life. None of my friends care, no one in my family cares, none of the friends I’ve made playing every single Halo or 1700 hours of TF2 (scout main lol) or 200-300 hours of Overwatch give a fuck. It’s fine.

    Ha. I have a lot of feelings about this discussion! I’ve never had the platform nor the outreach that you have, Jake. I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my part of the conversation. It is not often that I am given one. I look forward to more posts from you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Re: not approaching a woman for this post, I realize you have added Geguri as an example. Although, personal input directly from source is also greatly beneficial! Haha.


  8. I don’t really like how you make testosterone vs estrogen = more physically able as an axiomatic statement, then arbitrarily draw a line you’ve just made up in your head where the hormone disparity apparently stops mattering. Where’s your evidence that hormonal differences have negligible impacts on attributes that are favorable in gaming? You’re literally using a baseless assumption as the launching pad for your whole piece.


    1. My point is not that there is no consequential difference as a result of hormonal differences, but rather that the obvious differences that yield separate leagues for traditional sports are at least not clearly present in the context of competitive gaming. In my view, the burden of proof lies upon one who would contend that these differences do exist that would prevent women from being successful in Esports to the extent that separate leagues are required. I’m open to such a contention, but I feel also that it must be well researched and definitively proven. In fact, the literature has some extremely confounding results that reject the simple conclusion that testosterone is the particular cause of differences in spatial reasoning capability across genders. If you are interested in learning more, check this out: http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/picture-yourself-as-a-stereotypical-male

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great read, Jake.

    You’re very well spoken and a delight to have in the competitive Overwatch scene. It can be so hard to not get defensive and to do the hard work of looking within ourselves for those biases and other ugly parts we’d rather not face. The Bill Gates quote about Saudi Arabia in particular left me with a profoundly gut-wrenching feeling.

    I did have one thing to add to something you said at the beginning of the article.

    “In competitive gaming, this biological disparity falls away.”

    Based on the studies I’ve read (which is a small fraction of the available scientific literature, to be sure), I don’t think this is entirely true. There are still well documented gendered differences in brain structure (on average, of course this cannot be applied to any one individual). And they have implications for performance that aren’t necessarily related to more traditional ideas of strength like weight lifting or running a mile. For example, boys show higher spatial awareness than girls as early as 5 (this is very much important for competitive gaming as well as any kind of “depth perception” or “hand-eye coordination” and many other things like abstract thought).

    While biological brain differences in gender do appear to exist, what is not clear and what is much harder to test is to what degree this difference is innate (nature) or cultivated (nurture). Recent decades have revealed just how “neuroplastic” (adaptable) our brains really are, even beyond the critical learning period in children. But biology, even if just a rough draft that is later molded, is still a rough draft billions of years in the making. It’s not something that is easily changed overnight.


  10. Jake,

    I’ve been playing video games all my life (I’m 25, female) and have consistently had to deal with the toxicity that comes along with being female in an online environment. This resonates with me because Overwatch was the first competitive FPS game I’ve truly enjoyed. Before Overwatch I was in a PvP competitive team for Guild Wars 2. At the time my team was rather serious about it, however due to some balancing issues (and the game in general running into the ground) our team decided to move on to other games. Overwatch then came out and instantly took my first spot as my dedicated game. Though I was never able to form a full team, eSports in general has always been something I respected and something of a far away dream.

    I follow the pro scene for Overwatch quite a bit and was ecstatic when Geguri was signed to a team, but the backlash that has came from this is (as you said) discouraging. Though I am no where close to how good she is, I could at least imagine myself in her shoes. I have the utmost respect for her and how she’s handled the criticism. How anyone could argue she doesn’t belong in that seat is beyond me.

    I just wanted to thank you for speaking about this, knowing you’re reaching a large crowd. I know this post essentially thanking you doesn’t add much to the overall discussion, but I wanted to let you know these are encouraging words and you at least made one fan grateful to have someone speak for them.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I have one friend who used to game competitively he said his mind was blown when he was beaten by a very young woman at a tournament and it changed his attitude thankfully.

    I’m a mature gamer that happens to be a woman and can still beat some of the youngsters sometimes though reaction times are slower sadly and that isn’t a gender thing that’s just a human thing.

    Lots of the people that game and are really good are women but they get so sick of harassment they just don’t speak let alone put themselves forward to game competitively. As well as really serious harassment, Such as being stalked and that has happened to me and one other woman I know there is that lower level stuff that guys think your uptight if you point out such as getting joke marriage proposals or OMG I got beaten by a girl, or just basically trying to hit on you. If I wanted a date I would sign up to a dating site. It is unfortunately relentless. As an aside one of the best PvP players I know is a woman, She never ever speaks in lobbies though we have spoken in party chat a few times.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. First of all, as a gaming dad of a young daughter who has started taking an interest in gaming thank you for this article. There needs to be more discussion of this type to brighten the future of esports and gaming in general.

    Also, regarding the comments about more females in Overwatch who main supports (especially Mercy). I was a very casual gamer most of my life, and basically only played some RTS games with close friends as a kid. I don’t think I ever played any FPS (maybe a few minutes on a friend’s console) But something about Overwatch appealed to me. When I started playing I gravitated towards support, (mainly Zen and Ana) and I still main them.Playing support 75%(+/-) of the time, I have ranked up from Bronze to Diamond. Now as my aim has gotten better, I have started playing more DPS. But I thought this supports the theory that newer players to FPS games (regardless of gender) gravitate towards support characters in Overwatch.

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  13. A bit of a side note, but I think there are quite a few girls interested in the lore and backstory of Overwatch. On tumblr, I looked at 10 different blogs that clearly displayed the gender of the owner, and 6/10 stated she/her or girl. 2/10 were he/him and 2/10 were they/them. Other blogs I looked at looked feminine although the owners didn’t outright state they were girls.
    Honestly, I’m not sure how this applies, but I think it’s kind of interesting.


  14. This is a wonderful piece of writing. I did have a question off of something you said, though: are there any openly out trans people who are professional overwatch players? Or even any LGBT people in general?


  15. Jake – I respect and follow you as an OW player, your maturity and attitude are rare for a pro gamer. However – as a statistical geneticist who has worked with genetics data for countless hours both during and after my doctoral program, I do want to better inform people on some of your statements. But I would first correct people who think men are automatically better and women have no place in esports as absolute nonsense. Here is how I would frame it which I will provide thorough scientific reasoning:

    Given the evolutionary genetic selection from thousands of years of environmental selection pressures that have fallen on males and females differently – even if we control for environmental differences we should expect an over-representation of males relative to females in the far right tails of fps gaming talent and skills (i.e. pro scene). This DOES NOT mean we shouldn’t expect many more guguris and very successful female pro gamers in the future, whether OW or other esports, nor does it mean we can make any kind of judgements about any given INDIVIDUAL.

    Starting first with your claim that “…. this biological disparity falls away”. What phenotypical traits do you believe are most important for competitive gaming success? I would argue, with scientific justification / peer-reviewed research, that it is primarily spatial IQ/reasoning and sensory response times. Below are two studies that found fps/action games “exercise” many different cognitive tasks involved with spatial reasoning, and we know from functional MRIs that we see increased brain activity in the associated areas with spatial reasoning:

    Click to access Wu_etal_2012_JoCN.pdf

    Click to access Spence_Feng_2010_RGP.pdf

    Now – much less controversial is the fact that batteries of tests over many decades have shown males consistently outperform on spatial IQ tasks while females consistently outperform on verbal IQ tasks, and from your comments it sounds like you agree with that but mention testosterone doesn’t play an influence – which there’s evidence it does
    It’s not just androgen though – we know it’s related to brain structure differences. We know there’s significant differences in many brain structures and substructures between men and women – and with spatial cognition it’s been tied to a large difference in the parietal cortex.
    Of course there’s clearly some social factors here at play as well – but consider part of the biological explanation is that
    “A second is the influence that prenatal hormone differences—in particular, androgen levels—have on activity preferences and spatial thinking” and “a male advantage was found as early as 4.5 years of age.[52,53]”
    which implies at least a good portion of the difference is innately biological.

    Not surprisingly – a lot of these differences are due to different evolutionary selection pressures placed on males and females over thousands of years – resulting in nature having selected and reinforced different genetic advantages between males and females. It was a clear evolutionary advantage for a male to be better at spatial tasks for survival – like hunting, building tools / structures / weapons etc., while it was a large evolutionary advantage for females to be better at verbal IQ tasks since children of more articulate / communicative mothers would learn faster.

    You also talked about demographics – undeniably like you mention demographics play a major role in the disproportionate gender representation in the pro scene, and part of that is due to social expectations/factors like you said. But also – a large part of that is due to a difference in overall gender interests which stems from prenatal androgen exposure
    These gender interests governed by prenatal androgen are what’s referred to as the difference between interests in “things vs. people” – where males are more likely to enjoy working in isolation whether writing code for 10 hours alone in front of a computer or grinding 10 hours of fps per day, while females are more likely to enjoy tasks / careers that are more cooperative and involve other people. This is why we persistently see large gender disparities in engineering fields but women have reached parity and even surpassed it when it comes to attending top Law and Medical schools. Once again this doesn’t mean we can judge individuals but these are distributional differences.

    Another factor to consider, briefly so I don’t write a novel, is that in many of these phenotypical traits like cognitive ability, spatial reasoning (or even the biologically determinant brain structures) – males have a higher VARIANCE than females, which means males will be vastly over-represented in the tails – so when it comes to “the best of the best” that higher variance means much higher ratio of male:female representation. This is especially true for e.g. IQ – where males and females have the same mean, even a couple points higher in females in recent studies, but slight difference in variance in the male distribution means males are vastly over-represented on the tails – i.e. the dumbest and most brilliant of humans.

    If you’re interested in differences in sensory reaction times see

    Click to access 869.pdf


    Before we start claiming these differences are purely social note that even in samples using Olympic male and female sprinters there was a significant gender difference, this is important b/c the female sprinters weren’t “discouraged” from any kind of training – rather they have been training intensely for the measured responses all their lives.

    Given two groups of people under different evolutionary survival pressures – it should not be controversial in the least that we end up with a situation where there is distributional differences in traits and skill sets – humans are remarkably biologically diverse!

    In summation – in no way am I arguing that social factors don’t come into play at all, they certainly do. And as I said this doesn’t mean you can use this to make any judgement about any individual, nor does any of this mean we shouldn’t expect many successful female pros in the future as environmental factors become closer. But even given that, seemingly minor male advantages in phenotypical traits combined with a higher variance means in many of these sports, competitions, even something like competitive gaming which involves spatial reasoning and reaction – we should absolutely expect a large over-representation of males in the very highest tiers (i.e. pros).


  16. Jake – how disappointing that my comments won’t pass through your moderation, since as a statistical geneticist I’m the only in this comment thread even qualified to discuss the science on this topic. My comments were clearly well tempered, thoroughly researched and cited. In the future keep in mind this situation when you think “my side” is too cynical in these debates – since repeatedly as has happened here with your claim to wanting “openminded discussion” that’s “thoroughly researched”, the voice of the scientific community is repeatedly censored by those like yourself, hypocritically claiming to want “openminded discussion”.

    Quite ironic and hypocritical in your opening paragraph – that apparently it is you that feels animosity towards the science behind this subject, and hypocritical for censoring a clearly well cited and researched explanation of the science. “Open minded” is the last thing descriptor you should be using of your discussions.


    1. Hey Mark,

      I’m sorry that you felt that I was suppressing your viewpoint. In fact, I have simply been trying to train as much as possible for the upcoming Overwatch World Cup and I had not checked the pending comments on the blog for a few days. I read your comment and I felt that your argument was sound, and also that it adds to the rational discussion rather than being ‘too cynical’.

      I don’t see any point in shying away from statistical, scientific realities. However, genetic disparities are also the causal factors behind the gender representation disparity that are utterly out of our control. As you said, “nor does any of this mean we shouldn’t expect many successful female pros in the future as environmental factors become closer”. Perhaps you are correct that ‘fair representation’ shouldn’t be set to some arbitrary 50%/50% standard, but it seems to me that the present 100%/0% is probably off of the mark as well.

      Thanks for a well researched contribution, I enjoyed the read.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Jake – my sincere apologies for assuming the worst, it’s regrettably just my default assumption these days having experienced countless cases of suppressed well reasoned viewpoints simply to avoid any possible offense regardless of reason.

    And I completely agree that this 100/0 is way off the mark, – at its most basic my argument is nothing but:
    given our evolutionary biology, it is foolish to expect 50/50 representation. Also given decreasing differences in environmental factors, it is just as foolish to expect anything but significant improvement over 100/0 in the upcoming years/decades.

    Good luck in your training – my OW friends and I are all rooting for you and will be watching intensely!


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