Garena, operator of League of Legends in places like Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, is hosting an all-women eSports competition. Hurrah! There's just one problem: they've put a limit on the number of LGBTQ people allowed per team because they might offer an "unfair advantage."
It's a puzzling policy that could've, admittedly, been mangled a bit by the language barrier. But still, the rule itself is clear as day: one lesbian or trans woman per team in Garena's upcoming all-women Iron Solari League tournament, which will take place at the end of the month in Manilla, Phillipines. No exceptions. Breaking this rule—whether knowingly or not—will apparently result in a one year ban for all team members.
Garena made the announcement in an update on their eSports site:
1) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of one (1) Gay/Transgendered woman for the entirety of the tournament day. Therefore, teams cannot do the following: Team_A's first game will be 4 female members and 1 gay, then on Team_A's second game, they will have 4 female members and replace with another gay or transgender member.
2) Any team who has violated the above provision, regardless if intentional or otherwise, whether discovered during the day of the event or some time after, will have all their team members (the female members as well as the Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered women member) sanctioned with a 1-year ban on all Garena-organized events, including subsequent Iron Solari Tournament.
The organization claims to have reached the conclusion that this is a good and sensible idea—not, you know, a backward and exclusionary one—by talking to previous competitors from the first leg of the Iron Solari competition and LGBTQ members of LoL's community. Garena said they want to be inclusive, but also that "there are arguments and concerns from other participants who disputes that Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered Women members may probably have some unfair advantage."
So again, the wording is sloppy (and in places, outdated), but the message still comes through loud and clear. What we're missing here are not the whys of this decision, but rather the hows. How does being lesbian, trans, or queer in any other way confer an advantage in a video game, a virtual space where physical characteristics cease to matter? Most people have the same tools—hands and reflexes—regardless of sexual orientation or which fleshy protrusions populate their nethers. Even setting aside other questionable decisions here (of which there are a ton), Garena's stance already doesn't hold water.
Don't get me wrong: it's a good thing that Garena is attempting to put on an all-women LoL competition. In theory, these kinds of things make it a bit easier for women to feel invited into spaces that have traditionally been extremely male-dominated—both culturally and from a raw numbers standpoint. However, in this instance Garena has drawn lines that exclude just as much as they include, that arbitrarily put people in pens based on characteristics with little relevance here.
I've reached out to Garena with questions about what exactly brought them to this conclusion and whether they're considering tweaking their policy. I'll update this post as soon as I hear back.
UPDATE: Riot has tweeted the following, implying that they're hoping to rectify the situation:
UPDATE 2 (2/4/2015): After more than a few raised eyebrows and voices, Garena elected to reverse their decision entirely. In a new update, they wrote: "After discussing the ruling with our partners and re-examining our approach, we have decided to remove these restrictions completely. This means that any player who self-identifies as female will be allowed to participate. We sincerely apologize for any offense we caused to the LGBT and gaming communities."