Seriously, Is There a Good Reason to Segregate e-Sports by Sex?

Note: As is my habit during the summer, I wrote this post last week when this story was fresh.  It’s since been resolved with IeSF approving non-gendered tournament play.  Chalk this one up to a case of vocal complaint doing what it’s supposed to: encouraging positive change.

Alright, let’s start with the story.

There’s an organization based out of South Korea called the International eSports Federation which apparently has a good bit of sway in establishing regulations for various gaming tournaments around the world.  IeSF’s policy on tournament play involves segregating competitions based on sex.  They’ve been doing this for at least a year, but it’s become a big deal recently because of an organization out of Finland stating that one of their tournaments, which are used as qualifiers for IeSF events, will only be open to registration by Finnish male players.  Here’s the full story over at Kotaku.

Now, looking at this situation, it seems like IeSF is the organization responsible for these guidelines.  The Finnish organization has said that they’re only following the lead of IeSF, since they organize feeder tournaments for that larger group.  IeSF has responded to the controversy by saying that they’re just trying to legitimize e-sports by following international standards used in tournament play for other sports.

Okay, how many ways can we break down what’s wrong with this set up?

Let’s start with the Finnish organization and where they go off rails.  I understand being bound by the policies of an umbrella organization, but going along with IeSF’s standards sends a signal that this organizer isn’t concerned with gender equality in the pro gaming world.  Even if they disagree with IeSF’s policy, choosing not to withdraw support for the larger organization implies agreement with them.  Arguments that failing to comply with IeSF would likely be detrimental to the smaller organization don’t excuse the fact that they’re not actually doing anything about the problem.  They should at least be protesting the policy if they can’t afford to end the association.

As for the IeSF, I don’t know what’s going on there.  The argument that segregated tournament play is their policy because it’s the trend for other legitimately recognized international sports is stupid on its face, because they ignore the fact that in most other sports there’s a physical component that justifies segregated competition due to differences in average level of performance.  Gaming isn’t a physically demanding activity, and any justification for segregation besides a difference in average physical ability is specious.  Adhering to this policy suggests that the administration of the IeSF isn’t seriously thinking about what characteristics mark a legitimate international sport.

I’m not a regular follower of professional gaming, mostly because I don’t play most of the games that get picked up for tournament play.  News like this only further discourages me from taking the pastime seriously, because this policy smacks of the ubiquitous myth that male gamers are better players than female gamers.

If IeSF wants their organization and their sport to have more respect on an international level, they need to grow up.

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