Hello! This edition of Dote Night is about a controversy which erupted yesterday in regards to the rules for a women-only League of Legends tournament run by the Garena organisation. The specifics are obviously about League of Legends and about this particular tournament, but the reason the rules are problematic is because they tap into stereotypes and assumptions which permeate across the pro scene and across games. It's also a good place to bring up a study which looked at female and male League player skill which is important for how we think about both recreational and professional gaming. Here goes!
eSports organisation Garena has updated the rules for a Philippines-based League of Legends tournament in order to remove restrictions originally placed on LGBT players.
I'll explain the original rules and why they were problematic in a second but the update means they now state that "any player who self-identifies as female will be allowed to participate" and "We sincerely apologize for any offense we caused to the LGBT and gaming communities."
Riot, the developer of League of Legends, swiftly turned to Twitter to make their own position clear:
LGBT players are welcome at official LoL tourneys. We're working with partners to ensure consistency with our values across all regions.
— Riot Games (@riotgames) February 3, 2015
Here's what happened initially:
Garena are running a monthly tournament called the Iron Solari which they bill as "all-feminine". For the first month the tournament rules had the stipulation "Only Girl Summoners are allowed to join" but for the second month the rules were tweaked. Garena's post at the time says they wanted to be more inclusive of the LGBT community while placating participants who assumed lesbians and trans women were somehow overpowered and would give teams an unfair advantage:
Putting all these points into consideration, we wish to experiment on the following changes to be implemented in this 2nd leg:
1) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of one (1) Gay/Transgendered woman for the entirety of the tournament day. Therefore, teams cannot do the following: Team_A's first game will be 4 female members and 1 gay, then on Team_A's second game, they will have 4 female members and replace with another gay or transgender member.
2) Any team who has violated the above provision, regardless if intentional or otherwise, whether discovered during the day of the event or some time after, will have all their team members (the female members as well as the Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered women member) sanctioned with a 1-year ban on all Garena-organized events, including subsequent Iron Solari Tournament.
And when Esports Express - an eSports satire site - pops up in the comments on your idiotic rules post to leave one (1) comment saying "We salute your tireless dedication and welcome the competition!" you can be pretty sure you gone done fucked up.
I had a conversation with a friend about this when the debate was raging yesterday evening. The rules are earnestly stupid enough that there is humour there, although it's rooted in very real eSports problems. We pondered what happened if you were bisexual? Are you allowed to trade one (1) lesbian for two (2) bisexuals? And what about in male tournaments? Are you similarly OP if you're gay or a trans man or do Garena count that as a handicap? And what's the exact statute of limitations on you coming out anyway?
What these rules imply is that if you aren't a hetero cisgendered woman you're not a real woman. Women who don't fit that mould – i.e. trans women and lesbians – are then assumed to have a competitive advantage as a result of being less womanly. LGBT OP, basically. This also moves the idea of women-only competitions away from any sense of trying to redress a broad cultural and economic disadvantage and simply assumes there is an inherent biological disadvantage when it comes to women and competitive gaming.
There's a study called Stand By Your Man: An Examination of Gender Disparity in League of Legends which was published in the Games and Culture journal. In the discussion the researchers state:
"the difference in actual skill between males and females was found to be negligible for those who have played the same number of matches. This is inconsistent with the stereotype, which suggests that males accrue game skill more readily than females. Thus, this suggests that females are not at an inherent disadvantage with respect to developing gaming skills, a finding consistent with previous research examining the relationship between gender and gaming expertise [...]"
What the study did, however, show was that female players demonstrated less confidence in their ability to kill opponents. It was a small effect but suggests that awareness of the stereotype that men are more adept at games than women has a measurable effect on a female player's perception of her own ability.
"In other words, many female League players may face a vicious cycle by believing that they are suitable only for Support roles or, more problematically, that they do not belong in the game, female players may refrain from intensive play and/or experimentation with other game roles, which in turn perpetuates these very stereotypes."
Garena's original stance is one which "othered" LGBT players. It helped shore up stereotypes which help contribute to a vicious cycle with regard to how women in general are perceived and perceive themselves. It played on lazy assumptions that ability is linked to the contents of your knickers and with whom you'd like to share those contents.
Their revised stance is simply what should have happened in the first place.