Who watches esports?
Ask the general public about who they think is an esports fan, and you are likely to get a very stereotypical answer – male, young, and plays games all day long.
This is a far cry from the truth. Most esports fans are gaming enthusiasts, that much is true, but according to a 2019 report from Newzoo, almost half of all gaming enthusiasts are – wait for it – female.
There are prominent female personalities in esports. Jorien van der Heijden (Sheever, above) is a recognisable personality on the Dota 2 scene; Li Xiaomeng (Liooon) famously won the Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Finals last year; and those who tuned into OG’s historic win at The International 2019 would have noticed Finnish sports psychologist Mia Stellberg as part of the wider team. And that’s just to name a few.
Among Yahoo’s partners, the Female Esports League organises tournaments exclusively for female gamers to hone their skills in competitive gaming. Yet, the perception that most gamers and esports fans are male persists, and this is most evident in the way some brands in esports attempt to engage audiences.
Esports talent Ashley Rita Wong (above), who is a frequent commentator for Dota 2 games and co-hosts Yahoo TV’s Game Changer, feels the changing trend is something brands and organisations need to adapt to.
Tournament organisers will include female talent at their events, but “I don’t know how much of it is genuine and how much is for representation and inclusiveness purposes, (for example) the token female”, says Wong, 27, who has been in the industry for three years.
“Brands, on the other hand, are almost always excited to have a female talent or gamer on board, because she is of great value and appeal to the audience.”
‘They don’t take you seriously’
Former competitive esports athlete Deborah Sim, known online as Wolfsbanee (Top picture), agrees that brands sometimes take that approach because “sex sells”. Female gamers particularly feel the heat of the “gamer girl” stereotype.
“It’s a marketing strategy to feature your favourite girl gamer as a brand ambassador,” says Sim, 28, who hosts Game Changer with Wong, and also streams on Twitch.
As a female streamer, Sim adds there are times she gets disturbed by her audience, and once in a while, “they do not take you seriously”.
The latter is an issue Wong knows too well.
“Because of the stereotype of female gamers being superficial hot chicks who don’t actually play or know the game, it makes it difficult for me to be taken seriously as a caster with an inordinate amount of game knowledge,” she says.
“It feels like I have to work doubly hard to prove that I am good at what I do because I am constantly undermined by the gamer girl stereotype.”
Improve engagement with females gamers
Brands have the opportunity to reach and engage a still largely unserved audience, by meeting them with the right approach. Both Wong and Sim have their suggestions for brands in the esports space.
“Have content that is independent of the gender of the audience,” Wong says.
“The overtly sexualised female warrior or cutesy damsel in distress tropes are tired and overdone.”
Brands also need to make a “conscious decision to ignore the gamer girl stereotype”, she recommended.
“Like, I love a particular neon green gaming brand, but I don’t appreciate being offered pink cat ear headphones just because I’m stereotyped as a ‘gamer girl’.”
Sim, who has been involved in esports since 2013, believes brands can try to “open up creative ways to market girl gamers”, adding that it would be good to cast female gaming enthusiasts and esports fans in a less stereotypical light.
Sim also feels that some people have the perception that female gaming ambassadors are able to work with brands because of their gender.
“I would hope that one day, that perspective can change.”
The writer is Bryan Huang, lead producer, Yahoo TV & Esports, Southeast Asia
This sponsored branded content by Verizon Media was first published in our April 2020 issue.
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