This sexist question at the IEM press conference illustrates eSports’ gender problem

Last week Intel announced its new AnyKey initiative to help support diversity in eSports and make competitive gaming more gender-inclusive.

Well, it’s clearly got its work cut out judging by one of the questions pitched to the panel at the Intel Extreme Masters press conference in Katowice this morning.

Intel’s director of developer relations Lee Machen spoke about Intel’s sponsored female CSGO teams, the importance of diversity in eSports and the $30,000 Intel Challenge Katowice all-female CSGO tournament taking place this weekend.

He also explored the idea of more prominent mixed gender tournaments in the future, as well as highlighting female role models to encourage more girls to participate within eSports.

At the end of the talk, one journalist in the audience pressed him on the viability of mixed tournaments. 

"Do women want to compete with men?" he asked. "Because women may get disappointed with losing. And as we all know, they take disappointment worse than men."

The question drew a mix of nervous laughter and groaning in the auditorium. 

Lee Machen responded resolutely: "I think they absolutely already do compete against men, just not at this level yet. They compete against men every day.

"They play practice matches and in other competitions, so I think it’s happening already. We just need to make it so it happens more often and more teams feel confident enough to make it into something like Intel Extreme Masters."

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While it’s fine to question the viability of mixed tournaments, the question itself obviously held a sexist undertone. It’s questions like that which demonstrate the thoughts some have around the idea of women equally competing with men in eSports, and in general too.

Of course, it could have been a one-off question, or perhaps the journalist was deliberately trying to get an extreme reaction or comment from Intel. Either way, it highlights one of the reasons why Intel and ESL may be working on this AnyKey diversity initiative – to change incorrect preconceived ideas people may have and to make eSports more gender inclusive across the board.

Earlier, Lee was asked: "You were saying you want women’s and men’s leagues to converge at some point, how do you think that will happen and on what timeline?"

He answered: "I hope that by being more proactive about it and sponsoring women’s teams and bringing them to events like this, we’ll be able to spur more interest from women’s teams and more sponsorship for them, because it’s very difficult for a team to compete at the highest level without sponsorship and the ability to really focus.

"Women have been competing for a while but I hope that by placing increased focus and providing role models to girls who might want to play competitively some day… I don’t know how long it’s going to take, it may take another ten years, hopefully less, but we’re committed to seeing it through."

Another journalist asked how Intel will converge women’s and men’s teams specifically.

"I don’t think we’re going to force any mixed teams to happen," Lee replied. "I hope that by shining a spotlight on women’s players through events like the Intel Challenge, that maybe a team today who are primarily men and need a new player, might try to take someone from one of the women’s teams who really looks promising, and would like to steal.

"On the point that nothing much has changed over the past seven to ten years, without us being proactive about it, that may never change, or it will take way longer than it should. And so I think that by bringing women’s teams to events like this, hopefully we can make that happen more quickly."

Other executives sitting on the IEM press conference panel included Ralf Reichert, CEO of Turtle Entertainment and ESL, Katowice mayor Marcin Krupa, and Intel’s brand partnerships and sponsorships marketing manager for IEM, George Woo.

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