ESports makes debut as Asian Games medal event

Monday, Sep 25, 2023

HANGZHOU: ESports´ inclusion as a medal event at the Hangzhou Asian Games was hailed as a landmark, but out of nearly 500 gamers for what is supposed to be a mixed-sex competition, just eight are women.

Excited video-game fans thronged a shiny new arena in the Chinese city on Sunday as eSports made its debut at the Games as a medal event, seen as a major step toward Olympic status.

But while the fledgling sport has made great strides in official recognition, fans say it has a long way to go when it comes to women. Large numbers of young women turned out for the first day of matches at the specially constructed China Hangzhou Esports Center, picking out souvenir pins from the stadium shop and posing with staff dressed as characters from the wildly popular Arena of Valor game.

Their enthusiasm made the gender imbalance on stage all the more striking. Only two women, Sabina Ibragimova of Uzbekistan and Nguyen Thi Phuong Yen of Vietnam, were scheduled to play during the dozens of officially mixed-gender games on Sunday.

"Lots of competitions are pioneered by men, and then only after slowly expanding do they let women participate," Pan Yuxuan, a 25-year-old gaming enthusiast who was among the spectators, told AFP. She said women frequently face discrimination from male players.

The global video-game industry, along with the player community, has for years had a reputation of being a "boys´ club". The 2014 "GamerGate" saga involving online harassment evolved into a fierce debate about sexism and racism in video games and the male-dominated industry that makes them.

Even when they make it to eSports´ top ranks, women face assumptions of lower skill levels compared to male players, as in the case of star Overwatch player Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon. She was accused of cheating in 2016 by opponents who thought her movements were too precise to have been unassisted -- all because she was a woman.