Monday, January 15, 2018

Sausage Factory

Overwatch League (OWL) began its inaugural season last Wednesday. I watched every match. The potential is entire league devoted to Overwatch, organized like the NBA or NFL. If my meager skills are ever up to the task, this is where I want to end up.

However, OWL still has a ways to go before it hits the mainstream appeal of most physical sports. I'll talk about some of the other issues I'm noticing with OWL later. This entry is about the main problem I have with OWL right now: where are the women???

I don't understand why an esport has to be all-male. Physical discrepancies or whatever reasons we don't let women and men tackle each other on a field do not apply to Overwatch. This lack of diversity also applies to the presentation: of the five or six commentators, only one is female. I'm aware that there are probably far more male professional cyber athletes than female, but I'm sure there are at least a few out there. I watched all 12 teams last week...nearly 150 different players...and I saw not one woman take the stage.

This is unacceptable. Overwatch is one of the most inclusive and diverse videogames ever created. OWL is a chance for esports to seriously compete for attention alongside traditional sports by exploiting advantages those sports don't being able to let women compete alongside men. In a league that is trying to bring spectator sports to a new level, the lack of women in OWL's ranks is a serious anachronism. How is anyone supposed to take the league seriously when only half of the world's population is represented? OWL does not have the benefits of tradition and history, like conventional sports, so "where are the women?" is not a question it can afford to laugh off, like the NFL does. 

If there truly is a drought of female cyber athletes, to the point where not even one can be found for a starting spot on an OWL team roster, then I think it's extremely important for Blizzard to initiate some kind of program or policy initiative to cultivate more female professional gamers. Again, this doesn't have to be some social justice thing (not that there'd be anything wrong with that); it's just plain pragmatic that a videogame with its sights set on global recognition have representation by all genders. And if it means having to watch a slightly-less overall level of skill in the league itself, I still am all for it. "We only take the best, and the best happen to be all male" is an inexcusable rationale that just continues to prop up the patriarchy. Of course the best are all male; they're the only ones who are ever looked at. And if there is one videogame and game company on the planet who can change that mindset, it's Blizzard, with Overwatch.

It is clear to me now, in my older age, that a thing is at its best when its seen from as many different points of view as possible. A female point of view is a valid "different" point of view. To not have any women looking at a thing is to deny that point of view. And that is the issue we run into with OWL...we don't really know if we're seeing world-class Overwatch, because not everyone in the world is actually being represented. 

Now, for a disclaimer: I believe in Blizzard. I'm sure they're probably working on this as we speak, and were well-aware of the issue long before I wrote this. I'm sure, in the end, they decided to move forward in the current paradigm rather than wait several more years to have a sufficient female player base. I'm quite certain, as well, that Blizzard employs dozens, if not hundreds, of women, and it's probably as much an issue of simple staffing/logistics that so few of them were on screen for OWL's starting week. I do not think Blizzard is sexist. With millions of dollars on the line, I'm sure they literally just couldn't afford to draw that line in the sand. 

Fine. Whatever. Those are all valid reasons...but they're also excuses. I know Blizzard is probably working on this issue...and I expect to see results from that work very soon, if OWL is ever to really have a chance to fulfill its true potential. As it stands right now, every female fan in the stands is a gift Blizzard doesn't currently deserve. I'm not ready for Overwatch League, yet; however, I now question whether the league is ready for me.

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