Today in infuriating news: Colleges and universities rushing to roll out esports scholarships have given almost 90 percent of them to men, according to an Associated Press study.
The AP study found that at 27 of 56 public schools asked for data, all of which participate in the National Association of Collegiate Esports, 90.4 percent of roster spots and 88.5 percent of scholarship funds related to esports have gone to men. That’s despite Entertainment Software Association estimates that women make up about 41 percent of all U.S. gamers and Pew Research Center polls showing 57 percent of women ages 18-27 play games. Of the remaining 29 schools, some told the AP that their programs aren’t considered official varsity sports while “a handful” of them either refused to provide information or simply ignored requests for comment.
This data is just a tiny slice of esports, and the schools’ programs are small; according to the AP, the average size of the programs was just 30 players, of whom only a quarter received an average scholarship of $1,910. But it is also far from a surprise, given that women in every part of the gaming industry including esports, streaming, game development, and journalism have spoken out about facing rampant sexism and toxic misogyny. The AP wrote that as schools rush to get in on the esports boom, which still doesn’t have any kind of governing body akin to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, there’s a complete absence of any effort to make it equitable along gender lines:
“The way that these programs have been built out, the games that they select to play, the esports models that they’re looking at, the people that they are staffing, all are replicating an unequal system,” said Collins, CEO of Liminal Esports and a former liaison at the U.S. Department of Education focused on educational technology.
“So often it seems like to me, they’re trying to make another football for universities, and taking with it all of the baggage that is completely unnecessary to pull along with esports.”
Many schools additionally have structured their esports programs outside athletic departments, which according to the AP may conveniently place them outside of Title IX mandates on equal opportunities between men’s and women’s sports, including scholarships. However, National Women’s Law Center general counsel and senior adviser Neena Chaudry told the AP schools could still face consequences if they don’t act on other Title IX requirements applying to the program, like addressing gender discrimination and harassment.
State University of New York College at Cortland associate professor of sport management Lindsey Darvin separately wrote for the Conversation on Friday saying her research resulted in similar findings, which builds on prior research confirming the hostile environment faced by female esports players. As Darvin noted, polls conducted by esports firm Momentum Worldwide have shown the stereotype that women are casual or mobile gamers isn’t backed by the evidence, as 48 percent of women play games in competitive categories. She also noted that even the most prominent female esports players don’t come anywhere close to raking in the same money as their male counterparts:
The top-earning man in professional esports – Jordan “N0tail” Sundstein – has brought in roughly $7 million in career earnings, while the top-earning woman, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, has brought in just over $300,000.
According to the AP, just one school, the University of South Carolina-Sumter, has a 50-50 ratio of men to women in its esports program. Another school, Boise State, was one of the more equal schools at “16 male players, five female players and three who identified as nonbinary.” Boise State esports coach Doc Haskell told the AP that he prioritizes factors like teamwork when recruiting over raw scores and tries to ensure team members know not to use exclusionary language during play.
“There are things that would be, in previous generations, considered ‘locker room talk,’” Haskell told the news agency. “The grand truth is that we can hope to avoid these things. We can teach around these things.”