Male-Only Video Game Tournament Sets Off Controversy

Women aren't allowed to play Hearthstone in one upcoming multi-national tournament, and the gender discrimination has triggered a great deal of controversy this morning.

The South Korea-based International eSports Federation holds competitions in various video games, split up by gender. This year's games for men are Dota 2, StarCraft II, Hearthstone, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. For women, the line-up is StarCraft II and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. The IeSF has been separating tournaments by gender for at least a year now, according to their website. Their reasoning? "The decision to divide male and female competitions was made in accordance with international sports authorities, as part of our effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sports."

This is unusual for a number of reasons: most major video game tournaments are open to players of any gender, and there is nothing about games like Hearthstone that would indicate that men and women play at different levels, as they might in physical sports like football and basketball.

But the IeSF has been doing this for years. So why is this coming up now? Yesterday on Reddit, a user named Karuta posted an e-mail from a Finnish organization named Assembly that holds qualifiers for IeSF tournaments. "The participation is open only to Finnish male players," the e-mail read.

Then, this morning, Assembly organizer Markus Koskivirta spoke to PCGamer, making what appeared to be a boneheaded statement: "In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation's (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things."

The statement set off a firestorm of controversy—how would it be a "conflict" for a female player to beat a male player?—and all over Twitter this morning, prominent pundits and game developers are attacking Assembly and Koskivirta, but their ire appears to be misplaced. Assembly's tournament is just a qualifier for the IeSF tournament. They have to follow whatever rules the IeSF sets.

In fact, buried toward the end of the PCGamer article is another quote from Koskivirta: "We would also like to point out that the Finnish eSports Federation is currently lobbying for the equal rights of male and female players in the IeSF tournaments."

Meanwhile, in a statement on their Facebook page, an IeSF representative addressed the controversy:

Let me elaborate a bit on the decision to create both male and female competitions. This decision serves two main goals of the IeSF:

1 - promoting female players. We know that e-Sports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale.

2 - International standards. IeSF is very close to get e-Sports recognized as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues.

But, we want you to know that we listen to you, and appreciate your feedback! Our efforts does not clash with the community opinion - but on the contrary - we are here for the future of e-Sports and will do our best to promote it as best as we can.

Later, the representative added: "Our top priority is to promote e-Sports in the best ways we can. We believe that listening is important, are we're now collecting your opinions from the social media, and we will update soon."