Earlier this week it was announced that the WESG would add female competitors to female-only circuits for Hearthstone and CS:GO in addition to allowing female competitors to play alongside their male counterparts in DOTA and SC2. The uphill struggle that women face in competitive gaming should not be news to readers of this blog. For the WESG to make a tangible effort to improve the way women are treated in this community is big news, but it also raises a lot of questions.

Why do women need their own tournament circuit for some games? Are you doing women a disservice by separating them from male competitors? And last, but certainly not least, is it a bit of a shock to award female competitors somewhere between 12 and 20% of what you’re awarding their male counterparts?

Two days later, the WESG responded to community concerns over the apparent segregation of female competitors and the disparate prize pools. They deferred greatly to the Olympic Agenda 2020 Recommendations, a set of proposals that was agreed upon at the end of 2014 in an attempt to renovate the Olympics in many different ways.

Item 11 on the agenda is Foster Gender Equality and it is from this proposal that WESG chose to drive their initiative to include female competitors. Here is the full text of the proposal:

Now, a lot of the initial outrage was over the idea that the tournament with the larger prize pool was exclusively for male competitors while the much smaller prize pool was for female competitors. WESG explained that this was an error by their translation team for overseas audiences. The correct setup is as follows. I took the liberty of making it a little easier to read grammatically.

WESG 2017 consists of a general group and a women’s group. The general group is open to registration by everyone. Due to the arrangement of the event schedule, women can only select one of these groups to compete in.

So, the IOC recommends achieving 50% female participation and they encourage the inclusion of mixed-gender team events, to which WESG decided to add a female-only tournament group. Am I missing something here? Here are two of the more interesting responses from WESG’s response to this whole situation:

Would the Decision to Divide the Women’s Group Make Women Feel Discriminated Against?

“Without a doubt, male athletes have higher chance of appealing in premier e-sports events, sometimes, there is even no women athletes participating at all for those events. This is absolutely not a good thing as a competitive sport. The reason of dividing women group in WESG is because we want to provide a world-class stage for women athletes and a chance for demonstrating themselves. WESG is not treating differently based on genders, general group allows both male and women groups and the propose of dividing women group is for promoting the development of women e-sports.”

Would Dividing the Women’s Group Deepen the Existing Unfairness to Women in E-Sports?

“If we look back the developing way of e-sports industry, it is an undeniable fact that the ratio between male and women athletes are startling unbalanced which causes women athletes are hardly to show up in the final stage of premier e-sports competitions. There are some objective reasons, but we cannot ignore subjective reasons such as lacking of high-level women competition. We had an interview with former women CS:GO championship 1212 before we made our decisions. She used to train and compete together with four other male athletes in a top-class team in China. Nonetheless, she chose to participate international competition with four women athletes in the end and won two women CS:GO championship. In her point of view, it is a pretty hard thing to train and live together with male athletes and compared with numerous male athletes and teams, those limited women athletes and teams are strenuous. A world-class stage for women athletes will stimulate some of top-class clubs be aware of women e-sports and provide a favorable training environment for women athletes in order to help them participating into competitions. This is an effective action for improving athletics level for women e-sports athletes and providing a platform for women athletes to demonstrate their athletics strength. WESG has not done a lot by far, however, there is no doubt that we except that we can accompany with the growth of women electronic sports.”

To summarize, the WESG wants to provide a world-class stage for female competitors and believes that, based on the experience of a female competitor in CS:GO in China, that female competitors cannot train and live together with male competitors.

To be honest, these answers sound like they’re talking around the issue. The IOC says they want to see 50/50 splits between male and female competitors and they want to see mixed-gender competition. WESG says they are promoting the IOC’s recommendation by having a female-only group that pays out 20% of the prize the mixed group pays out.

While WESG acknowledges that there is a huge problem with the lack of female competitors in esports, the decision to create a women’s group as a way to provide a stage for women to compete on is not in-line with the IOC recommendations. In fact, it goes completely against the IOC’s recommendation which is to find out how to achieve a 50/50 split of male and female competitors in a mixed-gender competition.

Here’s the reality of the situation: Until you can achieve a 50/50 split of mixed-gender competition at the local and grassroots level, attempts to force your high-level competitions to have that split are going to fail. No one becomes a top-level competitor regardless of game or gender by simply deciding one day to do so. It takes years of practice and training to get to the world’s elite stages like the WESG or Magic’s Pro Tour.

If the WESG, or Wizards of the Coast, or any tournament organizer wants to help fulfill the IOC’s dream of a 50/50 gender split in mixed-gender competitions then they’re going to have to look at events like Friday Night Magic, Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers, local-level eSport Qualifiers, and so on and figure out how to get to a 50/50 split at those events.

Starting from the top with a female-competitor group that awards 20% of the cash that the mixed-gender group gets is mostly a gimmick. It’s a way to say, “look at us we’re thinking about women and the future.” Maybe your heart is in the right place but your cash isn’t. Take that money and pour it into grassroots efforts to turn a male-dominated landscape into one that is more welcoming to female competitors.

What About the Pro Tour?

Wizards should 100% never go down this route and create a separate Pro Tour for female competitors. The causes of this problem are numerous but they are almost all rampant at the entry points to the game, not at the Pro Tour itself. If Wizards or any organization wants to put money towards achieving the IOC’s goals they need to create a welcoming and encouraging environment where female competitors don’t feel threatened because of their gender.

Don’t ask why there are no women at the Pro Tour if you can’t explain why there are no women at Grand Prix, RPTQ, PPTQ, Champs, FNM, or any other Magic event you can think of. Gaming isn’t a trickle-down system where creating equity at the highest levels magically translates to fair treatment at your local game store. It’s a grassroots system where real change starts with you at your store with the way you treat the women who walk through its doors.

Rich Stein thinks $100,000 would go much further supporting gender equality at the entry level of your sport than as a gimmick-y women’s championship event.

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