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Advocating For Diversity And Inclusion At This Moment In Esports

PlayVS Game Changers discuss how to capture the moment and promote diversity as esports grows into a next-gen behemoth

PlayVS Staff
Oct 01, 2021

The idea of equal representation in our industry – both in casual gaming, and competitive esports – has finally taken a turn in the ‘20s with a new era of inclusive, safe spaces quickly becoming the norm both inside the development process and with the audiences who might enjoy the games. The perception of who’s considered a “gamer” is rapidly changing, and codes of conduct at esports organizations are reflecting the need for inclusivity.

Entire divisions at developers have been dedicated to the cause, such as Riot Games’ Diversity, Inclusion & Culture wing charged with ensuring games like Valorant and League of Legends are created with diversity of thought and a general understanding of the broad audiences which play its games.

As other major studios like Ubisoft begin correcting course with policies like mandatory anti-sexism training, the game development economy is changing for the better – and becoming more inclusive for women and minority groups. Indeed, about 45% of all gamers are women according to a recent study

“I don’t want anything to do with homophobic remarks, right? I have very little tolerance for it,” said Summer Scott, head of player development at esports franchise CLG. “Thankfully I have the luxury of walking into my workspace and knowing that it's not just a personal limit anymore, but actually something hard set by the company culture – and I can really stand behind my values.”

Her teams are part of an esports industry that has begun to mirror the structures of more traditional sports, so PlayVS is working with Game Changers like Scott in order to enact ideas that will create better equity in the space. Our leaders interpret the competitive esports landscape and ratchet up solutions to decades-long dilemmas – like why are in-game characters are overwhelmingly white and male in popular games? Or, what would it take to eliminate toxic speech from gaming cafe’s, chat rooms and online matchmaking spaces?

And, importantly, how do you develop a great culture with teams enrolled in competitive college or high school leagues? 

“There's a difference between a gaming org or club saying ‘we're open to everybody,’ and a club that actively promotes diversity and inclusion and has a lot of bylaws designed to ensure that people feel safe in the culture,” said Amanda Stevens, a diversity and inclusion consultant.

Stevens has raised tens of thousands in money to assist Pride initiatives for a variety of companies, like Cloud 9, a major esports organization spearheading efforts to empower traditionally marginalized people in competitive gaming. 

“If you feel that your organization doesn’t have enough diversity – or for instance, if you’re wondering why there are no queer folk on your esports teams – do some outreach,” Stevens suggested. “Go to the Alliance and say, ‘I represent our esports club. And I know some of you play Fortnite. I know some of you play League of Legends, why aren’t you a part of our esports club?’ and really sit down and listen. And then you take that feedback and you start making an effort, for instance, doing a Pride fundraiser.”

One thing our experts agreed upon is having an open-door policy and ensuring regular feedback, sometimes with the option for anonymity, so that the people within your organization can point out instances of discrimination or people with toxic tendencies. 

“I think if you are responsible for creating a safe space, it's a reminder that you are responsible for maintaining that safety,” pointed out Jessica Crabb, a senior product designer at PlayVS. “So if you are not providing avenues for folks to report that there has been discriminating behavior, you need to give them anonymous ways to do it.”

Making overt efforts to publish your progress in creating a diverse and inclusive organization can be done through your website or social channels, which helps move the ball forward in your efforts to score a first-rate program that incorporates safe spaces and diversity of thought. It also creates the kinds of checks and balances that ensure these ideas become pillars of your teams’ culture.

University of California - Irvine Esports, for example, has a code of conduct and an Inclusivity Plan specifically designed to combat esports’ checkered past of “toxicity of the esports community culture toward non-male, non-white players” and ensure broad protections for all teammates and inbound freshmen who might be skeptical of otherwise joining.

If your esports organization is part of a school, that also means you have resources at your disposal that will facilitate creating a safe and inclusive program. The burden to find a groove on the team shouldn’t be on inbound athletes who might be from a minority community, however.

“Think about involving your office of student success or some other brands of the school to maybe help you develop a system moderators,” said Stevens. “That way your mods are more trained to receive feedback. You really want to take the pressure off of the minorities or the marginalized to not be their own heroes in their own advocates,” she said. 

For information on how to talk with the PlayVS Game Changers working to push esports forward, check out our schedule of upcoming events