Women, Gaming, and some Evil Geniuses

I am a gamer. I never really expected to be so involved in the gaming community, but here I am. From playing games and watching competitive esports, I’ve come to love this community. However, I don’t love toxicity and misogynistic behavior that happens. If you’re not much involved in gaming, especially team-based shooters, you may not realize how toxic an environment it can be, especially as a woman. Even over the past few years, there have been a lot of changes at many gaming companies regarding negative experiences women have had while working at them. This is why seeing a panel of women involved in these communities is so important.

This leads me to the gaming organization Evil Geniuses and their Collegiate Genius Seminar: Success in Gaming and Esports: Inclusivity and Acceptance in the Space. Involved in the seminar was Sabrina Wong, the Culture Program Specialist for Evil Geniuses; Amanda Stevens, an esports journalist and Diversity & Inclusion Consultant; Victoria Horsley, president of the Unified Collegiate Esports Association; and Jessie Yang, an Associate Software Engineer for Blizzard Entertainment.

I first met Sabrina Wong during the first season of the Overwatch League while she was working with the Los Angeles Valiant. This was the team that had become my favorite (and still is), and part of it was because of the work of Sabrina and the Valiant content team. During the spring of 2018, they put on a Women in Games Summit, which was both in-person and streamed online. The Overwatch League community is also how I met Jessie Yang, who does some wonderful art of players in the league.

Since then, Wong has worked for a few other teams and organizations in the world of esports. Having her moderate this panel was a wonderful thing to see, knowing the amazing work she has done in the past. Over the course of an hour, this panel answered questions and talked about their own experiences in gaming and their jobs, as well as the importance of diversity and inclusion. With their various backgrounds, it was insightful to hear about how they’re making differences within the gaming sphere.

As the President of the Unified Collegiate Esports Association, Victoria Horsley has the ability to make a difference in the college environments. She has talked to team coaches regarding ways to get people involved and feel safe. These teams aren’t just about players, but should also include IT, social media, team management, and more. These positions are ways that women and minorities can be included and involved in the collegiate scene, even if they’re not high-level players. She also talked about how important it was that these teams spotlight their players. This way people know the teams as more than just a team, and gives others ways to connect to the team on a higher level.

Wong mentioned how she started working in esports after high school, and Jessie Yang was a part of the Cal Women in Gaming group when attending UC Berkeley. Through her work in this group, she helped make a safe space for women and minorities interested in games, whether socially, professionally, or both. The group helped with connecting members to mentorships in their desired field, or just connecting them to others with the same interests. Being able to welcome people into the space was great, but keeping them there so they don’t feel alone or like an outsider was even better.

When it comes to toxicity while running collegiate tournaments, Horsley adapted a zero-tolerance policy. She will usually be around to put out fires and help people come to agreements while making sure that all involved know these rules. As for tryouts, she also emphasized how having them as a team (as opposed to solo) can make a huge difference. A big topic regarding women playing games is how much toxicity they experience just by talking in voice chat. Since communication is a big part of being successful in these team-based games, feeling like you can’t talk really impacts your in-game experience. By having tryouts in a group, coaches can identify toxic behaviors early, as well as give these players a more welcoming environment.

That type of environment was also what the panel agreed on as being something very positive about the women only tournaments that have been happening recently. With her experience as a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, Amanda Stevens said that being asked about these women only tournaments is her favorite thing to be asked about in esports. She is in support of these tournaments because they give women a safe environment to learn in. It’s much harder to learn and progress when you end up on a team with or against toxic players. Being able to confidently play these games without that behavior, while organizations and communities work to prevent toxicity, is a great way to ensure that these types of tournaments won’t be needed in the future.

On the topic of how we can combat in-game toxicity, Jessie Yang, as a software engineer at Blizzard Entertainment, believes that providing better tools is a great way. She says that these tools should be provided as a bare minimum, as toxicity is a larger community issue as well. These tools are ways that players can manage their personal experiences better, as Yang says. Stevens added to this by pointing out that even with these tools, there are no bot or programs that can be designed that will properly look through in-game chat or listen to audio files. With the various lived experiences people have, others can learn to attack those experiences. There are unfortunately many offensive terms or hidden messages that can slide by because they aren’t recognized as toxic phrases by people who don’t have those same experiences.

From my personal experiences, I believe that playing with others who will also speak up against these behaviors is incredibly helpful as well. Whether calling out uses of slurs, or speaking up against misogynistic behaviors, you’re supporting your fellow players as well as making sure others know that type of behavior isn’t welcome. Being the only woman in a game and having one of your teammates making these types of comments, when the rest of your team is silent against it, it’s frustrating. The few times I’ve had teammates speak up as well, it definitely helps. Don’t let these behaviors continue, otherwise you’re just showing silent approval.

So how can organizations or companies show that they’re interested in making changes, or widening their diversity? Firstly, having Amanda Stevens as a consultant would be a good start. Even in her journalistic work, she tries asking questions that help people in the community feel a better connection with players and teams. Instead of questions about more technical terms and information, she is able to show the personality behind the player. It’s also a matter of making sure the person she’s interviewing feels comfortable as well. She’ll ask questions that might get them thinking more about their process than what went wrong. The same can be said of how she works with organizations.

Finding out the company’s goal is the first step, and from there making sure that they’re able to make a meaningful impact in their communities. Stevens mentioned how she’s pushed for companies to work with local groups, especially this year when many LGBTQ centers aren’t able to get their usual fundraising done via pride events. When teams like Cloud9 are establishing their Los Angeles residency, connecting with these local groups that need help can make a huge difference and show that they care about following through with their initiatives.

When asked about how companies and organizations make their various Pride or Black Lives Matter statements, Stevens said that it’s a good start. If they’re doing some kind of charitable giving work, even if people think it’s just to fulfill some kind of appeasement for the community, it really makes a difference to those who it benefits. Horsley made a great comment that these organizations need to make sure to follow up with their initiatives. Don’t just make it a political statement, but follow up on what you say. For Yang, she also says that the communities can help hold them accountable.

I believe that Jessie’s comment about communities holding companies accountable is one that we should all listen to. If we want game companies and organizations to do better on diversity and inclusion, we in the community should do our best to keep them accountable when they make their statements. Make sure they follow up.

The last question of the hour was asking the three panelists if they could go back and talk to themselves ten years ago, what would they say. For Victoria Horsley, it would be to stay strong, have faith in yourself, and believe in what you can do. For Amanda Stevens, she would say to not work with angel investor projects and instead work with your community and run these things by yourself. Learn to trust your own ability. For Jessie Yang, it was to remember that you’re passionate about games and that it’s a valid place to put in your time and effort. If you care about it, then go for it.

I think they offer some good advice for many people to listen to. There are some amazing women in the gaming communities, and a lot we can learn from them. I look forward to the changes that can be made in the next few years as these ideas and beliefs push forward.

If you’re interested in watching the full seminar, you can find the video on the Evil Geniuses Twitch here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/772609218

Also, you can follow these women on twitter:
Sabrina: @ Sabby
Amanda: @ AmandaTNStevens
Jessie: @ ingoodjesst
Victoria: @ QueenNayru

And @ EvilGeniuses for the organization!

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