AnyKey: ESL, Intel Announce Esports Diversity Initiative

Esports company ESL [official site] have partnered with Intel to found the AnyKey organisation. The group’s aim is “supporting diversity in and around the competitive gaming industry.”

ESL goes on to add:

“The organisation’s core goal is to create more opportunities and inclusive spaces, whilst advocating for the underrepresented members of competitive communities, such as women, LGBTQ participants, and people of colour.”

I’ve been perusing the information in my inbox and on the AnyKey website and the biggest thing for me is the emphasis being placed on research and then converting that research into strategies or solutions. So… a kind of esports diversity R&D lab?

I’m excited because the research side of things is going to be headed up by T.L. Taylor, whose work I think I’ve referenced a fair few times over the years. She’s professor of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and currently writing a book about game live-streaming. Her book Raising the Stakes is one which lives on my shelf and sports all manner of underlinings and post it bookmarks.

I remember I interviewed her back in 2014 when I was working for Red Bull’s esports site and asked what areas of pro gaming or esports she wanted to keep an eye or or investigate next. She replied “Two things continue to ping my radar: the state of third party organizations in the eSports ecology and the continued need for progress around gender and diversity.” From what I’ve read so far, AnyKey seems to fit that bill.

“The research team assembles and establishes discussion opportunities such as the “Women in Esports” panel and industry workshop with industry experts, and fields audience studies and more at events such as the Intel Extreme Masters San Jose, from which White Papers are published.”

The team charged with taking those findings and turning them into strategy or practice is headed by Morgan Romine, co-founder of the Frag Dolls and Esports Director for Firefall at Red 5 Studios.

I’m actually reading the AnyKey White Paper from IEM San Jose 2015 (that’s the event in the header image) and there are a few interesting bits in there. One is that the women attending had significantly more experience with conventions and fan events generally so the idea is that non-esports conventions would be a place to reach prospective attendees. Another is about how friendship groups who game together are “often more gender-mixed than typically thought and one way of reaching and supporting women is through these. Group ticket packages, using promotional materials that “hail” this kind of mixed-gender friendship cohort for gaming, etc. could provide powerful messaging to bring more women in.”

AnyKey will have a presence at the upcoming IEM Katowice event which runs from 2-6 March. There will be a lounge (“a welcoming space for conversation, information exchange, and networking”) and the group is supporting the Intel Challenge CS:GO tournament for women.

Header image: ESL/Patrick Strack

33 Comments

  1. SupahSpankeh says:

    Yeah, this might cause a fair bit of aggro. Feel free to delete mods.

    Thanks, and soz :D

  2. Cross says:

    Cool! This is all-round a lovely initiative!

  3. Varelse says:

    It’s so great that there’s groups like this in the world that help weak people who can’t do anything for themselves get into the rough and tumble world of… playing video games.

    /sarcasm

    • Buggery says:

      Blargle blargle blarg

      *vomit shoots out of every orifice in my face and body, scarlet tinged with blood*

      Trying to encourage non-majority gamers into a professional league that by admission contains oddly skewed participation by 15-to-early-20s heterosexual men despite a lack of physical or social realities that would necessitate splitting leagues by gender or other identifiable segments…

      *vomit turns to straight blood, arcs of which increase in reach as pressure rises*

      …Leading to a weird situation in which one of the few competitive scenes in which people of all respects are given an equal playing field is still overwhelmingly single-note and poorly represented like one would assume of a varied and wide market of players from a global background of races, sexual preferences and gender…

      *collapse on the floor and start flailing like a dying fish*

      IMPOSSIBLE TO CHANGE! UNNECESSARY EFFORT!

      *dried husk floats away on trade winds*

      • Varelse says:

        I’m sure it’s because white men are putting up impenetrable barriers to entry in the high stakes world of… video games that they disproprtionately represent a growing subset of society that prefers and excels in a virtual world to the one that shouts “RACIST!” and “SEXIST!” at them all day, from every corner of the media and

        • magogjack says:

          Then maybe they should stop doing and saying sexist and racist things. Just because you don’t personally (I assume) take part does not make the problem any less real.

          • Varelse says:

            A bunch of white men alone together /= racists.

          • magogjack says:

            I never said that, stating that racism and sexism exist is not the same as saying that all white men are guilty of either isms.

          • Varelse says:

            The point is there’s no evidence racism/sexism is why esports is predominantly populated with straight white males, so saying that they should stop being racist/sexist is a logical leap, and tells me you’re just pushing an agenda without any interest in finding truth.

            Sure, in my experience when men compete they hurl insults left and right, but even if that’s happening in esports, that’s not a barrier to entry. If insults bother you, that’s you’re own issue to deal with. An uncontrolled mind is the source of sorrow. If some people can’t give as good as they get, then they’re not competitive and don’t belong in competitive sports.

          • magogjack says:

            Except the problem exists in greater society, the same society that the players come from. These things go very deep into our cultures.

          • Distec says:

            Laying out that everything is racist/sexist because of “broader culture” is not a very productive or enlightening point to make, I reckon.

            Addressing broad issues such as that require some seriousness and a willingness to grapple with complex and difficult subjects. If your approach is to boil it down to some #StraightWhiteGamebros flippancy, then I think it’s clear you’re not willing to actually do that and are probably a net drag on the conversation.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Bothers you though, doesn’t it. I’d call that a win.

      • Moth Bones says:

        They’ll never get it, will they?

        This is obviously a fine thing. I hope ESL are prepared to deal with the entitlement rage demonstrated above.

        I suggest mods disable comments on this piece, sadly.

        • Varelse says:

          Probably should disable the comments. Wouldn’t want propaganda to have visible dissent.

          • Premium User Badge

            Grizzly says:

            That’s just the thing: You’re part of the problem, spitting venom at anything that threatens the status quo. And, as ever the issue with the narcists who believe that their ‘opposing views’ entitle them to act like dicks on the internet: You are not bravely dissenting against propaganda, you’re simply being a jerk in a random corner of the internet.

          • Varelse says:

            Nice projections, Grizzly. Let’s see what you’re doing:

            1. Maintaining the status quo (make white men feel guilty for even so much as congregating) by ignoring rational arguments and redirecting everyone’s attention to emotional outrage.

            2. Calling me and anyone who disagrees with you “entitled” while you defend a multinational effort to encroach on and dilute anything predominantly populated by straight white males, just because some of them might be saying something racist.

            3. Referring to me as a “dick” and accusing me of spitting venom.

            You’re the problem, Grizzly. You’re a hypocrite, you make baseless assertions, and you support a group that treats certain subsets of human beings like permanent children, which likely ensures that’s all they’ll ever be. This behavior screams moral narcissism. I think you care less about the effects of your actions than you do the high you get from your sense of self-righteousness. I’m guilty of it too. My snarky sarcasm wasn’t tactful, but it felt great, and I’d do it again in opposition to this plague of professional victims sweeping across the rest of the world.

          • Serenegoose says:

            You seem to be a bit emotional about this tbh.

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            Lars Westergren says:

            As always, whenever the topic in games turns anywhere near something that could be interpreted as progressive or feminist, someone turns up in the comments and show exactly why these things are needed.

  4. robodojo says:

    Hello! I think this is my first post on RPS. I’ve been interested in eSports for a while, but never actually followed a league. Recently I started listening to the excellent Esports Today podcast on the Idle Thumbs network and it stoked my enthusiasm for the subject. I am still largely ignorant however, and perhaps that’s why this caught my eye:

    AnyKey will have a presence at the upcoming IEM Katowice event which runs from 2-6 March. There will be a lounge (“a welcoming space for conversation, information exchange, and networking”) and the group is supporting the Intel Challenge CS:GO tournament for women.”

    I understand the rationale for Women’s tournaments in the more physical sports, like soccer, golf, MMA fighting or most of the Olympic sports, because of biological differences in the average strength of male and female competitors. Does anyone know the back story behind a CS:GO tournament for Women? Strength isn’t a factor in the equation with eSports as far as I understand.

    Is this a response to market demand? I would like to see more women competing on the “mainstream” eSports teams, and if this offers some kind of career gateway, I can see the benefit. But if this functions to segregate women from the larger pool of competition, can anyone make a good argument for it benefiting diversity or competition in the eSports community? Maybe these aren’t mutually exclusive possibilities. Does anyone have insight into why this exists and it’s effect on the industry? Perhaps I’ll email the eSports Today guys and see what they think.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Like a British soldier in the 18th century remarked: “There are so many women serving as men that they ought to have their own regiments”.

      The issue that a women only tournament would segregate women from the larger pool of competition is a decent argument to make, but it ignores the reality of the current situation: Women are already being segregated from the competition. Last year’s LoL World Cup was a male only in everything but name. And that’s a big shame: The reason why we now have women in the air force, for instance, is not because diversity in the army is important but because if you let your recruitment process be guided by outdated notions on gender and capability, you deny yourself half of the talent pool of fighter pilots.

      The eSports scene is not as well regulated as any army, but if you are a woman wanting to enter the eSports scene you are still battling against a very wide “Women do not genuinely play games” sentiment similarily to how women in (or retired from) the army are still facing the “Women can or do not fight” sentiment even in a world where Leigh Ann Hester and Monica Lin Brown exist.

      This mentality that women do not genuinely play games is not so much the result of any regulation, it’s simply the result of a lie that has been repeated over and over again so that now a significant portion of the games scene believes it and resorts to very bullish measures to enforce it. It is a lie that needs to be refuted: Not doing so ensures that the eSports scene denies itself a very large portion of the natural talent that is out there.

      The best way to refute that lie that is to host a tournament that shows the world that yes, women can play games, and they have as much innate potential as the men have.

      • Bladderfish says:

        “This mentality that women do not genuinely play games is not so much the result of any regulation, it’s simply the result of a lie that has been repeated over and over again so that now a significant portion of the games scene believes it and resorts to very bullish measures to enforce it. It is a lie that needs to be refuted: Not doing so ensures that the eSports scene denies itself a very large portion of the natural talent that is out there.”

        What experiences are you basing this on? I’ve been playing games for 30 years, and the number of hardcore female gamers I’ve encountered can be counted on one hand. I’m not saying there aren’t a fair few, but I am saying that they are the minority for reasons that go beyond ridiculous patriarchal conspiracy theories and delve differences in the female mindset.

        From what I’ve seen, plenty of women play casual games and MMOs; very few play competitive games and hardcore games. More to the point, most women I’ve met either think games are sad and men should be out drinking and playing football rather than fiddling away at a keyboard, or they simply don’t want to spend a large amount of time alone making progress in an abstract hobby.

        Additionally I work somewhere that runs computer gaming development courses, and recently there has been a big push, to the point where boys are literally being excluded to make room for girls, to get girls into gaming development. Did it make much difference? Not really. Because girls aren’t anywhere near as interested in the hobby as boys.

        Now, I ask again, what experiences are you basing this on?

        • Reapy says:

          I’m basically in the same boat as you here, the DREAM for me as a long time gamer was always to have more women online playing games. The majority of women I’ve run into just don’t want to play those kind of games competitively. Yes, here or there a few do, like anything there are exceptions, but the bulk of women I meet (at least around my age bracket, 30’s) aren’t going to be hardcore gamers.

          For the generation coming up, times are changing. I think women do need some help though, I remember reading and article where some highschool aged people were talking about what its like now, and the few women that did post basically sounded like myself in high school and other ‘gamers’ (if i’m even allowed to say that anymore) and that was really upsetting.

          Basically, it seems the boys have won the right to play out in the open finally, but girls still need to keep it secret or risk social ramifications with peers. As long as hardcore gaming has to be a ‘dark art’ for people, the pool of hardcore female gamers stays low. We are always screwed as adults I think, but have to work on the kids to enact any kind of change.

          Also, I don’t get all the white comments, I thought esports was dominated by asians? Seriously, like any competitive pool of players, it matters on the popularity of the sport/game. Why are there few US based soccer stars compared to the rest of the world? Well, the rest of the world has more people and cares more about the sport. Why is table tennis mostly dominated by the chinese? Why does the US have a big pool of basketball players etc?

          Basically the largest pool of players that are interested in the game will produce the bulk of the people talented enough to compete on the highest level.

          Anyway, I really do think diversity is important in some areas of this world, I really do, but I don’t think that it should be applied to EVERY THING EVER like it is a universally good idea. For all the good things diversity can achieve, it can also further drive a wedge between the idea that we all should want to achieve, that people are just people regardless of how they look.

      • Cederic says:

        If someone wins every match they play, they’re going to get noticed, and invited to play in a team. If that team wins every match they play, they’re going to win tournaments.

        Where did gender come into this? Where did race come into this? Teams look for great players, they don’t look for 19 year old middle class aryan supermen.

        Women do play games. Women that are better than the male professional gamers will be invited to join professional teams, because teams want to win. Sentiment on whether women game or not is not pertinent, because reality is that teams will pick the players that maximise their chances of success.

  5. lizzardborn says:

    Well John Romero’s wife beat him once on Quake.

    Anyway – how will this diversity promotion work in practice – we send underqualified diverse people and everyone wipes the floor with them? Funding of training camps for diverse people so they can qualify properly? We break white and korean guys fingers so they have literal handicap in the tournament?

    • Serenegoose says:

      To quote the article…

      “I’ve been perusing the information in my inbox and on the AnyKey website and the biggest thing for me is the emphasis being placed on research and then converting that research into strategies or solutions. So… a kind of esports diversity R&D lab?”

      So presumably, the aim is to find data from which a series of approaches could be figured out. But I imagine that a key aim will just be to create a community that isn’t the internet’s frothing sea of asshole and see who actually wants to play once you take that out of the equation.

      • lizzardborn says:

        But being an asshole is legitimate psychological warfare tactic. If you break your opponent psyche the match is already won.

        That is why people insult during games.

        • Serenegoose says:

          An excuse to be a dickhead is still being a dickhead. You start swearing and throwing invective at your opponents on a football pitch, or across a snooker table, or at a golf course, or anywhere else, and see where it gets you sent. Off. It is a psychological warfare tactic, but it is not a /legitimate/ psychological warfare tactic, unless one really really needs an excuse to be an asshole in every part of their life.

          • Tsumei says:

            In some professional sports “bigoted conduct” of any sort is enough to disqualify you.

            Mainstream sports have and still tackle this issue through anti-racist or anti-homophobic organizations; and esports could do with catching up

          • Cederic says:

            Thing is, verbal aggression is a strong element in many sports – search for the term ‘sledging’ in cricket for instance.

            Verbal insults and a level of attempted intimidation is also part of young male culture. Surely the equalists should acknowledge and be accepting of that culture, not deny it?

            In a professional gaming context, rules can apply and may be reasonable, but in general gaming it’s entirely optional.

            Racist/sexist/whateverist insults I do however agree are unnecessary. Although I see more of them thrown at ‘white men’ than any other minority outside of gaming, and predominantly used in a male homophobic form inside gaming, so I’m still not sure why women and other minorities are so terribly oppressed by it all.

        • Premium User Badge

          Qazinsky says:

          I gues you could hire some goons to physically restrain your opponent, then they lose too!

          This whole “trashing each other is part of the game” thinking has always bothered me, along with the “nothing matters on the internet” idea.

          In my eyes, it seems to be simple bullying, the people promoting those ideals have no problem confronting the opposition hard and visciously, while the other side simply cannot respond in kind because that is the very thing they’re against.

          The thing though, is that this kind of thinking got big early on, when the few people that was on the internet shared being on the internet like some kind of hobby, and it might have been “true” then. But today, there is so many people on the internet that don’t live by those ideas, just regular people that happen to use the internet, rather than trying to be part of the internet culture.

          Maybe it’s time to start acting like there’s some kind of social interaction going on?

          • Premium User Badge

            Grizzly says:

            In my eyes, it seems to be simple bullying, the people promoting those ideals have no problem confronting the opposition hard and visciously, while the other side simply cannot respond in kind because that is the very thing they’re against.

            You don’t have to respond in kind, not just because it’s against your own principles, but especially because responding in kind is ineffective.

            What is effective is simply denying them a platform: I am not talking “Don’t feed the trolls” here, but just straight up banning. The usage of any service, be it Twitter or Twitch or the RPS comment section is not a right: It’s a privelige, and that privelige should be taken away the moment someone tries to abuse it, no matter how much they feel they are entitled to it or how much they feel their agressive remarks are your fault. Not doing so would mean that you let abusive people dictate what you publish, which is a far greater violation of your right to free speech then protecting your platform is to them.

          • onionman says:

            Yes Grizzly, that’s the way to convince people you aren’t an authoritarian bully: ban everything you disagree with!

            I seriously can’t tell if you’re a GamerGate sympathizing troll or not, but on the off chance you aren’t, you’re making your side look terrible.

          • Premium User Badge

            Grizzly says:

            You may note that there is a vast difference between banning people who are trolling, bullying, being abusive, etc. and banning everyone with a differring opinion from me.

            I consider the former to be vital, however, as abusive people often hurl invective against… people they disagree with in order to shut them up. But if banning authoritarian bullies makes me an authoritarian bully myself, I’d be happy to take one for the team.