Sexist and stereotyped comments. Threatening behaviors. Insults. The mockery. Negative reactions linked to poor performance. Contemptuous remarks. Threats of rape and sexual assault. Or stalking on other platforms. These practices, as numerous and diverse and more online than in physical form, are common in the world of sports for video game players, whether amateurs or professionals. While the Roland-Garros eSeries series is currently taking place with an emphasis on female participation, France information: sports he wanted to take the measure of this fact of society that poisons the world of sports.
“Gambling harassment affects everyone, but women are the number one goal.” recognizes Eva Martinello, a former semi-professional player turned sports journalist. “As in other sectors, there is a glass ceiling for women in this environment. With the same skills, we do not have the same chances of success.” says Pauline Puybareau, manager of the sports section of Women in Games, an association that promotes diversity in the video game industry.
According to the “Survey of Female Players” by Bryters published in 2020, 50% of players are women worldwide. Female representation in France is almost the same as worldwide (47%) according to a 2021 study. And according to survey conducted by Arrival 3 in the same year, 77% of players had already experienced discriminatory comments when playing. “It was hell, remember Eva Martinello, about her past as a player. The other players spied on all our markers, always questioning our credibility. It was a very hostile environment. “
A “hostile” environment that takes the form of “chats” or discussion channels but also in a “vocal” way in games where players talk to each other to give directions in order to achieve team performance. These are formed randomly between players of the same level. This is especially true of shooting games like Overwatch.
“When you speak into the microphone to communicate with your teammates, you inevitably hear that you are a woman, which will usually lead to harassment, teasing and insults. And that will affect the performance of the players.” Eva explains Martinello (an example of these behaviors in the video above).
“We’ll have inappropriate thoughts, we’ll hear animal noises, men will talk out loud to make fun of us and if we lose the duel in the game, it’s normal, because we’re women.” confirms Pauline Puybareau.
Therefore, to protect yourself from this type of behavior, “Some women use software to transform their voice, to make them masculine,” adds Eva Martinello. Still others prefer to keep quiet so as not to attract attention.
“Most don’t change their voice. They don’t dare to speak. They prefer to deprive themselves of this communication, which is essential, when they just want to play like everyone else.”Pauline Puybareau, head of sports at the Women in Games Association
a franceinfo: esport
This need for protection is so essential that many players, whatever their level, choose neutral or masculine nicknames, to re-camouflage their gender. The practice is also widespread. According to a survey conducted by Arrival 3 in 2020, 59% of players hide their gender, to avoid any kind of discrimination.
This observation did not escape his male counterparts. “It’s always been harder for the players. And if they have a low performance, they get it they burn more than men “, explains Arnaud Billaudel, a former senior player and now coach of the BDS team. An opinion shared by the streamer Revenues. “Some of my classmates have told me that they cut the camera when they get up to go to the bathroom, that they care about how they dress when they are on the show, and that they are afraid of where they might find the pictures. of them afterwards “.
These behaviors therefore push many players to abandon sports, known as an environment where millions of players evolve, but where only about thirty can live economically. “Even though the atmosphere is less hostile on a professional level, the problem is that we all go through the amateur level, which is very hostile. It’s discouraging.”Eva explains Martinello.
Consequence: if they represent 51% * of the players of the general public (without classification, without competition), they only represent 35% of the recreational sportsmen (with ranking, without competition). Its presence even drops to 7% of amateur athletes (with ranking, with competition).
Now I understand why Valorant’s tails are so incredibly toxic. You have one of the most popular YouTube IShowSpeed streamers saying shit like this and you get nothing but praise and laughter. shit is shit pic.twitter.com/grEghVotUF
—Jake Lucky (@JakeSucky) April 6, 2022
How to explain such a phenomenon? For sociologist Nicolas Besombes, a specialist in video games, this phenomenon is linked to several intertwined factors. “First, we live in a socially gendered society where the construction of children is done from an early age according to their gender, begins the sociologist. Thus, we assign character traits more easily to one genre than another, such as collaboration for the girl and competition for the boy.
The arrival of the first home consoles in homes occurred in this context at the turn of the 70s and 80s, with a very gender-oriented marketing aimed at boys. “With sport, we are at a crossroads between video games and competition, perceived as masculine,” sums up the sociologist. Second, the video game industry was designed for and by men.
“Historically, female characters have been trophies for a long time, like Princess Peach to Mario, exaggerated.”Nicolas Besombes, sociologist, specialist in video games
a franceinfo: esport
In this context, there is also a practice not typical of video games: the anonymity favored by online gaming. “Behind a screen, on condition of anonymity, we notice that the People are more likely to make discriminatory comments than if they were in front of a person. “ supports the sociologist Nicolas Besombes.
If the problems of harassment and sexism persist in sports, it is mainly because the sanctions are not yet up to par. In the vast majority of cases, penalties are still at stake. “In free games, it is easy for the players in question to close their account and start over with another one. In paid games, publishers may ban players temporarily or permanently. In this case, the player loses. all its levels reached “, explains Eva Martinello.
“There is not enough regulation. If there are laws against cyberbullying, it is rare for people to be convicted compared to the extent of the phenomenon.”Nicolas Besombes, sociologist
a franceinfo: esport
In addition, demonstrating these behaviors can be complex. If publishers try to filter discussion channels to identify cases of harassment, it’s not always easy to identify sexist or harassment-related comments. Thus, more and more players and streamers are taking screenshots or recording the words or behaviors they have to deal with before making them public on social media.
To try to move the lines, initiatives have been launched such as the creation of women’s leagues in certain matches, parallel to mixed leagues but in fact, too often reserved for men. These women’s leagues want to promote diversity in competitions. But the initiative is shared in the middle. “I’m more against it. We’re lucky to be able to associate men and women with sports, because there is no physical difference. But indeed, from the outset, these leagues can help integration, and allow us to initiate a change of mentality.” believes Arnaud Billaudel.
“These leagues were essential to show that there were women in sports. But today, in 2022, we know that. Now we need diversity.” meanwhile, he calls Norman Chartrier, known as Gen1us, an entertainer, streamer, and professional gamer. However, even today, in physical events, there are less than 5% of participants for 95% of boys. “There is a real urgency, believes Nicolas Besombes. No one wants to discriminate against the practice of video games on the grounds of gender. However, if it can be useful to 10 or 15 people, it should be done. ”
Although the pace is still high to end these behaviors, the horizon seems to be clearing and mindsets are beginning to change.
“Ten years ago, players were counting on the fingers of one hand. Today there are hundreds. And behaviors are changing. A few days ago I played with a player for 3 or 4 hours, with nothing to report. Ten years ago years, there would have been incidents “observes Arnaud Billaudel.
“The integration of women into sports is not yet perfect, but we have already taken a big step forward. Ten years ago you couldn’t even play.”, adds Norman Chartrier, who has been in sports for 17 years. According to him, its better integration into the environment was made possible by the influence of streamers, on Twitch or Youtube, for example. “Today, they are a bit of a stand for players who are in the shadows. They show that you can be a woman and act in games that are perceived as ‘masculine’. And so prove, once again, that they have their place.
* According to the France Esports 2021 barometer.