Overwatch League is the biggest thing in esports right now. Its first season kicked off this week in Los Angeles to much fanfare and solid ratings. But one thing is missing from the league: women.
While women aren’t banned from participating in Overwatch League, all 113 players in the league are men. The players are from all around the world, and they’re divided into 12 teams based in major cities in the U.S., Asia, and Europe.
It’s not that there aren’t any women who are top-tier Overwatch players. The most notable is Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, who plays as the pink-haired tank character Zarya. She’s so good that she received accusations of cheating until she did a live-stream with a camera aimed at her hands to prove she really was controlling her character’s every movement. Se-yeon played for a South Korean Overwatch league until it was shut down recently.
So why isn’t she—or any woman, for that matter—on an Overwatch League team? Kotaku reports that question arose during a recent media day Q&A session with the teams. The responses were less than convincing.
The Houston Outlaws team cited the language barrier and issues around co-ed housing as main reasons preventing them from signing Se-yeon specifically. Outlaws general manager Matt Rodriguez said, “You have to go through all these hurdles, like if you pick up a player, is the press gonna call it a PR stunt, or is it because she was the best?”
Continuing along that train of thought, Outlaws player Jacob “JAKE” Lyon said, “For that even to be the perception, it’d be so terrible to be her. People would always be doubting, always be judging. So it has to be the right person, the right player, and those things have to come together at the right moment—which makes it especially hard for women in the scene right now.”
In a follow-up interview discussing Se-yeong’s absence from the league, Rodriguez said, “I know she’s had a lot of trouble. I’ve read a lot of articles about her having hard times, and that sucks. But that’s the hurdle.”
The men of Overwatch League haven’t had to overcome such a hurdle. These gender issues go beyond Overwatch League. They’re prevalent in all of esports, and in gaming in general. If you’re not a dude, you’re going to face extra scrutiny.
Overwatch itself has been widely praised for the diversity of its roster. It has male and female characters (and robots and one animal), who run the gamut of race, age, and body type. Esports overall, and Overwatch League specifically, would do well to follow suit.