In theory, sports are meant to have a level playing field; they provide a meritocracy in which everyone can excel based on their ability and commitment to improve. Yet, in practice, certain sports — such as esports — suffer from a lack of diversity. Specifically, women in esports are significantly under-represented.
Why aren’t more women in esports? It’s a complex, multifaceted issue, and there is no simple answer. If you are a female esports competitor who is passionate about gaming and you’re thinking of pursuing a career in the field, you may want to explore why there aren’t more women in esports. What you learn may help to strengthen your resolve to buck the trend and create greater representation for women in esports.
This article addresses two main questions. First, what is esports? And second, how can we include more women in the esports community? Read on to find out.
In This Article:
- What Is Esports?
- Why Aren’t More Women in Esports?
- Strategies for Encouraging Female Esports Competitors
- Exciting Careers for Women in Esports
- Earn a Bachelor of Science in Gaming Computer Science
- GCU: The Leading University in Esports
What Is Esports?
Esports — also known as “electronic sports” — is a multiplayer video game competition. Just like in other sports, esports teams compete against each other professionally and for prizes, especially monetary prizes. Esports players may stream their games online, where spectators can watch and subscribe to their videos. These players can be drafted onto a variety of teams and will often practice with these teams to reach the level of skill necessary to compete professionally.1
Gaming first began in the 1950s with the creation of computer games, the first of which was the single-player game “XOX.” The second was the world’s first multiplayer game, “Tennis for Two.” From there, professional gaming grew more popular, until Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory held the first esports tournament in 1972. The game was “Spacewar!” where players played against one another using spaceships with limited fuel. In those days, professional gaming took place only at universities, where college faculty could provide the resources needed to hold a tournament.2
In 1976, the game “Sea Wolf” was released, which allowed for lists of high scores, taking competitiveness in gaming to a new level. Next, the games “Asteroids” and “Starfire,” released in 1979, allowed people to place their permanent gamer tags on lists of high scores. In 1978, major tournaments began, with people playing games such as “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids.” In 1980, William Salvador Heineman became the first person to win an esports tournament.2
Technological advances in the mid-1990s allowed people to play multiplayer video games from home using personal computers and consoles. As technology continued to advance, players began to collaborate with other players on their favorite games. These players soon created teams and began to compete against each other within the team atmosphere. Over the next decade, tournaments grew and eventually took place in several countries, with prize money equaling millions of dollars.2
Collegiate varsity esports teams began in 2014, when Robert Morris University created and sponsored a League of Legends team. From then on, colleges across the US began to sponsor esports teams.3
Why Aren’t More Women in Esports?
Actually, there are lots of women in esports, but only in certain capacities. As of 2021, 41.5% of gamers were women, and about 58.5% were men.4 As of 2019, 22% of esports fans were women.5
Why isn’t participation in esports more evenly split between males and females? The explanation is multifaceted, and may stem at least in part from social stigma. Outdated conventions hold that it is acceptable for males to play videogames, but less so for females.
According to the secretary of Grand Canyon University's (GCU) Esports Arena, Samantha Jones, many people have historically believed that while men play video games, women should participate in other activities, such as jobs in the home. “Guys think of video games as a safe place and their own thing,” Jones said.
Female esports competitors are sometimes subjected to sexual discrimination and harassment while playing games, particularly over voice chat. The BBC interviewed several female esports competitors, who reported that they are frequently on the receiving end of harassment from other players, and that this creates a challenging environment that saps the fun of gaming.6
Another issue is that female gamers don’t tend to have professional support in the gaming community. Many don’t have coaches or skilled managers, and this can make it difficult for them to compete at high levels of gaming.6
GCU Esports Arena community leader, Elsa Lynch believes that marketing may be another factor. “In terms of viewership or marketing, teams will want to find the most popular male players [and] use them to bring in viewership,” she said. “Female gamers just haven’t been marketable.”
Strategies for Encouraging Female Esports Competitors
Although women in esports certainly face challenges, these challenges are not insurmountable. There are steps that can be taken to support women in esports and create a more inclusive environment online.
One organization that has taken a concrete step toward inclusivity is Formula One (or F1), whose one-seater racing car class is widely recognized as the ultimate in motorsports.7 They became involved in esports using their Formula 1 racing game and opened a series of championships for 10 esports teams, all competing for a monetary prize.8
As part of their esports championship, Formula 1 has created an F1 Esports Series Women’s Wildcard, which guarantees that at least one female player will be able to compete at the highest levels. It’s hoped that this small step toward greater equality will create momentum for positive change by guaranteeing women a chance to compete and encouraging others to follow their example.9
Some people have suggested that separating male and female teams in competitions may encourage more women to play.9 This is a controversial opinion. Lynch believes that splitting men and women into separate teams will only worsen the divide, and the female competitors the BBC interviewed believe that playing against male teams encourages them to improve. Removing that element of competition, they say, would take some of the fun out of gaming.6 Other gamers disagree. Jones, for example, believes that this may be a way to integrate women into men’s teams.
“When women aren’t given the chance, it makes sense for there to be only male teams or only female teams,” Jones said. “It’s going to happen without rhyme or reason until men watch women play. They’ll realize, ‘Man, I want them on my team.’”
Creating greater representation by encouraging more women to join the gaming industry in all capacities is another important step. Some universities, such as GCU, actively encourage more women to get involved in the gaming industry. GCU’s Esports Arena, for example, regularly holds events and giveaways.
Exciting Careers for Women in Esports
It’s often thought that the main career in esports is that of a professional gamer. Although passionate gamers often do aspire to become pros, there are actually many more options that may be available to them. You may want to consider the following types of careers in the esports world:
- Videogame developer: Responsible for creating the videogames that esports competitors love
- Animation artist: Responsible for creating intricate videogame environments and shaping the look of characters
- Marketer: Responsible for promoting videogame brand awareness and driving game sales
- Event coordinator: Responsible for planning, promoting and executing esports events, such as major tournaments
- Esports journalist: Responsible for writing articles about esports topics
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Gaming Computer Science
If you are passionate about gaming and would like to turn that passion into a career, consider earning a gaming-related degree. For instance, some gamers decide to earn a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with an Emphasis in Game and Simulation Development. This type of computer programming degree will typically cover topics such as the following:
- Fundamental concepts and syntax in Java, with an emphasis on object-oriented techniques
- Theoretical frameworks and practical applications of artificial intelligence in gaming, with a look at the implementation of common game AI algorithms
- Conceptual models for game design, including gameplay elements, genres and storylines
- The use of iterative, rapid application development techniques and cross-platform development environments for the creation of games intended for mobile operating systems
Along with an academic credential, real-world experience and professional networking are key to success in this field. Therefore, it can be beneficial to pursue internship opportunities within the gaming and game design community.
GCU: The Leading University in Esports
GCU has rapidly become a leading destination for students who are passionate about esports. In fact, GCU routinely holds esports events for high school and community college students, as well for our own student population.
Our faculty is focused on educating the next generation of gaming pioneers by offering cutting-edge degree programs such as the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with an Emphasis in Game and Simulation Development and the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Design with an Emphasis in Animation. Another popular degree for gamers and aspiring game developers is the Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering. For those who would like to focus on gaming hardware development, the Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering offers a rigorous curriculum.
In addition to our many degrees available to gamers and esports competitors, we have been breaking new ground with GCU’s Esports Arena. Newly renovated and significantly expanded, the Esports Arena is a community space where gamers can gather to play competitively, just have fun playing or watch others competing.
The GCU Esports Arena boasts more than 70 gaming PCs and a wide variety of Xboxes, PlayStations and Nintendo Switches. Currently, 14 competitive teams call the GCU Esports Arena home, competing across 14 different games. More are expected to be added in the near future.
As is the case across the entire GCU campus, all are welcome at the Esports Arena. The GCU Esports Arena coordinator, Albert Lee has worked hard to build a diverse and inclusive community on campus, with both male and female students enjoying the gaming experience. These students have a reputation for being accepting of newcomers and for their willingness to teach them how to play new games.
Lynch and Jones encourage anyone who wants to visit the Esports Arena to do so. “Go for it,” Jones said. “Walk into the Arena, grab a headset, sit down, and start gaming. No one should stop you. If they do, we’ll stop them.”
“As scary as it is to try and throw yourself out there, it’s worth it to try it once and talk to management,” said Lynch. “You’d be surprised how friendly most people are. People assume people are judgmental. As far as I can tell, everyone I’ve met [are] very accepting and willing to show you the ropes.”
GCU is proud to be the frontrunner in higher education for bringing esports into the mainstream, and we expect our club esports teams and Esports Arena to continue to grow in the years to come.
Students in the Esports Arena participate in a variety of degree programs, including STEM, the arts and psychology. Join our exciting student community by filling out the form on this page and find out more about earning a gaming-related degree, such as the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with an Emphasis in Game and Simulation Development.
1 GamesRadar, What is esports? A beginner’s guide to competitive gaming in January 2023.
2 ISPO, History of Esports: How it All Began in January 2023.
3 Hotspawn, A History of Esports in Higher Education in January 2023.
4 Statista, Distribution of video game users in the United States in 2021, by gender in July 2022.
5 Statista, Share of female esports fans worldwide in 2019, by country in July 2022.
6 BBC, Why are there so few professional women gamers? in July 2022.
7 F1 Chronicle, What is Formula 1? in February 2023.
8 Flow Racers, What Is F1 Esports and How Does It Work? in February 2023.
9 IntentaDigital, The Problem With Women in Esports in February 2023.
Approved by the director of esports operations on April 17, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.