Last weekend, the online video game eSport was given one of the world’s most prestigious and coveted sports arenas – the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, (where the U.S Open will take place next month) to host the first ever Fortnite World Cup.
Surprising? Not when you consider that Fortnite is one of the biggest entertainment brands on the planet. Already in 2019 audience figures for competitive gaming have reached over 450 million people.
Over ten weeks, forty million players competed for one of 100 spots to play in the finals of the World Cup, which occurred over three days last weekend. The age range of the players was between 14 and 24 with the average age, 16.
The 100 competitors who qualified were guaranteed prize money of US$50,000. Four took home seven-figure sums.
In front of 16,000 spectators, the finalists battled it out for the biggest prize pool in eSport history: $30 million.
The tournament was won by 16 year old Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf from Pennsylvania, U.S who took home $US3 million.
The young Fortnite champion earned more than most adults in the developed world earn in an entire lifetime.
Consider this. In July, the winning U.S soccer team at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup had to split $4 million among their 23 players. That’s just under $174,000 per player. We live in a world where an adult female sportsperson is paid 5.8% of what a 16-year old boy in front of a screen is paid.
Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf
Out of the 100 finalists at the Fortnite World Cup, there was not a single female player, despite Epic estimates that women make up 35% of the game’s user base.
Research by the Entertainment Software Association show 46% of gamers are women.
What does it say about our world that these young men, (and it is, exclusively, young men) who are getting these real world rewards, who are given this platform, this recognition, this power?
Money is power and this sort of access to power at such a young age is almost unprecedented.
eSports revenues are set to hit $1 billion this year. When that sort of money is awarded to this activity, it tells us what we value as a society.
Last year, Fortnite made $2.2 billion for its developer Epic Games and big names are involved. John Costas, former chairman and CEO of UBS Investment Bank (a bank that’s now worth more than $977 billion) was recently appointed vice chairman of Team Secret, a global eSports brand that strives to bring together the best players to compete on the world’s biggest stages.
I can’t think of a single female dominated sport or activity that has this prodigious degree of financial backing. Sure, Fortnite is a ‘children’s video game’, but it has had so much real world impact.
And women are missing in action.
There are several reasons why females remain underrepresented in Fortnite and the rest of eSports spaces. The culture of “hardcore” video game communities is overwhelmingly dominated by men, and by numbers, can be perceived to be unwelcoming to women.
Women are routinely exposed to rape threats, cyber groping and sexual insults. “Trash talk is a standard in most online competitive games” says journalist Keith Stuart. Misogyny is part of common online banter. Female players are often belittled and objectified, their abilities consistently questioned.
They are subjected to verbal abuse and comments are made about their appearances. “I spend quite a bit of my energy just proving that I fit in,” says Clara Reeves, president of game development studio Hipster Whale.
That’s energy boys and young men don’t have to expend.
Sponsorship and marketing of gaming events are male-centric: advertisements are mostly for products such as energy drinks, gaming tools, sportswear and fast foods. “eSports have grown into an economically significant media sport ecosystem,” says Julian Heinz Anton Ströh, author of The eSports Market and eSports Sponsoring.
I watched a video about the Fortnite World Cup where the only women featured were interviewing the male teenage finalists. Both women were sexualised by the video makers in a distasteful, derogatory manner.
The lack of female eSport players reflects the imbalance in traditional sports. Many surveys show girls drop out of competitive sports at 1.5 to 2 times the rate of boys. The Women’s Sports Foundation cites various reasons, including fewer opportunities, safety issues, social stigma and lack of positive role models. In the world of eSports, the same factors are at play. Of course, there’s the fact that women’s sports teams are not paid the same as men’s.
Most of the 100 players who competed at the Fortnite World Cup have established a strong following and have a long history of sponsorship from big companies.
Many of the competitors were part of professional teams and were supported with psychologists, nutritionists and other coaching assistance akin to normal sporting teams. I can’t think of a single activity where young girls are given the same platform, and financial and emotional support, as these boys received.
“Full gender equality at the professional level will take time to evolve as eSports is only just gaining recognition as a global game beyond male dominance. The Australian eSports Media Group (AEMG) now has a dedicated women’s league (WPGI) – a women’s only Counter-strike GO league.”
Let’s hope the near future sees more rapid changes for women wanting to engage in this domain.