A battle of wits, patience and strategic deck planning, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is the free to play card battling game from World of Warcraft developer Blizzard Entertainment and it has proved to be an early success. There aren’t any hard stats on how many people are playing the game as Blizzard keeps a notoriously tight fist around its stats (the decade it took for them to release WoW stats, anyone?) but Hearthstone has been released on iPad, PC and even a release on PS4 and Xbox One is on the cards if official Blizzard surveys are to be believed. The game is also doing so well that it’s now set to become part of the professional eSports community but as the guidelines for a Hearthstone tournament in Finland explained that the festivities are strictly men-only, the only thing the organisers are competing for is to silence the controversy.
The Hearthstone IeSF Qualifier, The Controversy and the Sentence That Started It All
How the controversy started in the first place is when an image was uploaded to reddit of the guidelines for the Hearthstone IeSF Qualifier that’s set to take place at the IeSF World Championship, a Finnish eSports tournament that’s set to take place in the country later this month. As written by the competition’s Finnish organisers, the guidelines explain that “participation is open only to Finnish male players” and as cries of ‘it’s just a typo’ were bellowed from the rooftops, Markus “Olodyn” Koskivirta (who is the head of admin of the team behind the competition) confirmed that the information in those guidelines is correct.
There is no female side to the Hearthstone competition either, although other professional eSports competitions have had separate tournaments for men and women to play the game amongst their own gender. Essentially, if you’re a lady wanting to take on the world at IeSF, you’ll have to stick to Starcraft 2 or Tekken Tag Tournament 2 while the men get to play Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Hearthstone and Ultra Street Fighter IV.
As there often is surrounding gender disparity in games, controversy ensued, leading Koskivirta to further explain the decision behind the men-only Hearthstone IeSF Qualifier,
“In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation’s (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things.”
In accordance, you say? Well then someone surely must be responsible for those regulations in the first place…
How IeSF Made the Controversy Even Worse
Not that Koskivirta could really make the problem blow away by himself, the South Korean based group, the IeSF (International e-Sports Federation), stepped in to explain that,
“The decision to divide male and female competitions was made in accordance with international sports authorities, as part of our effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sports.”
As if the gender divide wasn’t curious enough, “legitimate sports” sort of rubs the salts in the wounds a bit, as if being inclusive and embracing gender diversity is going to make eSports players as a whole look like a bunch of skirt-wearing pansies who cry home to their mothers after every defeat. Or something.
Obviously, embracing the fact that there are male and female players on a professional level, worthy of titles, could only help to further legitimise eSports and it’s a shame that the IeSF doesn’t see it that way.
That they care little is made abundantly clear with the other two statements they made to justify the separation.
“1 – promoting female players. We know that e-Sports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale.”
“2 – International standards. IeSF is very close to get e-Sports recognized as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues.”
Anyone who has looked at the stats of how eSports are made up can agree that yes, things are mostly dominated by male players but it’s because of the lack of encouragement for female players to get involved and bizarrely discriminatory practices like this that keep the male domination thing going.
It’s also a case of the abuse that women often get when expected to be taken seriously as gamers – abuse seemingly sanctioned by organisers’ own lack of willingness to invite us to the party – that keeps us away.
And as for chess being divided, PC Gamer quite rightly pointed out that the World Chess Championship is open to both men and women and allows them to compete against each other (they also linked to this, which is a good read) so the IeSF doesn’t really have a leg to stand on there.
Is The Controversy Valid?
Towards the IeSF yes, but to the Finnish organiser behind the tournament, arguably not. People are very knee jerk when it comes to things like this and while it is a good thing that the controversy has effectively forced IeSF’s hand (and has revealed their more concerning viewpoints as a result), reactions can often be unnecessary.
For example, the team behind the Hearthstone IeSF Qualifier in Finland are, ‘the good guys’ if you like, as they’re doing their bit to promote gender equality in eSports. As Koskivirta explained,
“We would also like to point out that the Finnish eSports Federation is currently lobbying for the equal rights of male and female players in the IeSF tournaments. This is an ongoing process and we of course welcome any support in this matter.”
Lobbying that is clearly needed given the circumstances.
IeSF, on the other hand are keeping women out of the sport for a pretty big, but baseless reason: they think that gender makes a difference with the way you play games.
In physical sports (football, tennis, basketball etc.) it makes absolute sense for the sports to be divided because men and women are built differently and therefore in sports like that, gender is going to make a difference. But for video games? Absolutely not.
Of course, a case could be made for a professional Wii Fit tournament but that’s not what’s being debated here and to insinuate that men and women’s capabilities of thinking about strategies and clicking a mouse/tapping on a keyboard/controller accordingly (which is essentially what a lot of games boil down to) is downright insulting.
The fact that IeSF doesn’t see women as being able to make eSports seem ‘legitimate’ is an issue that goes far deeper than their concerning viewpoints. After all, they probably feel this way because gaming as a whole is seen as a boys club; from the way games are made to the characters in them and to what we expect of women and how we treat them when they do decide to take up gaming.
But just because that is gaming’s reality it doesn’t mean that they should have to follow the rather concerning trend, especially not when it can only do good things for the world of eSports (and the millions of dollars that the eSports community rakes in) by not being so discriminatory.
What is positive, however, is that the IeSF made another statement on its official Facebook page to say that they “believe that listening is important, are we’re now collecting your opinions from the social media, and we will update soon” so while I’m not counting on drastic changes being made in time for the Hearthstone IeSF qualifier in Finland or the sixth annual finals in Baku, Azerbaijan in November, hopefully IeSF will take this on board and change their exclusionary policies for the better.
UPDATED 3/7/2014 – Speaking to Polygon, Blizzard (the developer of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft) have released the following statement,
“One of our goals with eSports is to ensure that there’s a vibrant and also inclusive community around our games. We do not allow the use of our games in tournaments that do not support this, and are working with our partners to ensure they share the same goal.”
As a result, the following games at the eSports World Championship 2014 are now considered “open for all”, allowing anyone of any gender to play against each other!
- Dota 2 – Participating teams may consist of 5 male players, 5 female players, or mixed team.
- StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – Players of all genders can participate in the event.
- Ultra Street Fighter 4 – Players of all genders can participate in the event.
- Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft – Players of all genders can participate in the event.
- Tekken Tag Tournament 2 –Players of all genders can participate in the event.
There’s also a few other female only events that are ‘extra’ rather than ‘separate’ for those female players who don’t want to compete against males for whatever reason.
- StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm –Female event is conducted separately, in parallel with “Open for All” event.
- Tekken Tag Tournament 2 – Female event is conducted separately, in parallel with “Open for All” event.
In addition to the pretty grand move, IeSF’s general manager of international affairs, Alex Lim had this to say,
“IeSF did not mean any sexism or gender discrimination, but originally tried to make the scene good for females”
Also explaining that,
“To achieve this goal, IeSF has been preparing to apply for SportAccord membership.”
To gain SportAccord membership you have to actively encourage female play so hopefully the IeSF won’t screw everything up and everybody will be able to play in a friendly, inclusive eSports environment from here on out! Wonderful.