Feminism and Video Games

Yesterday my boyfriend informed me that the first sponsored, all-female League of Legends team was announced. He showed me what I thought of as an inexplicably cheesy and scripted video of their “launch”. I’m sure there were all-female LoL teams before this, but none had sponsorship. I don’t know much about the sponsored gaming team scene, to be honest. From my understanding, a team gets sponsored because they are highly visible in some way; a lot of people look up to them or watch their streams, and when the team goes to the tournaments, they wear advertised uniforms/gear in front of millions of people. So, if the stats from their cheesy launch video are true, there are very few all-female teams, and that makes them an interesting niche in the market. From a sponsorship perspective, that is very attractive. They have a hook that automatically draws in an audience, and it seems to have worked; it’s had a hugely polarizing effect (of course), and people either love them or hate them. Either way, I’m sure it’s drawing tons of viewers to their streams. Of course, gender is at centre of this.

“They’re attention whoring by using a gimmick instead of being a really good team!”

I think this is the biggest issue that people have with this team. According to the in game stats, they formed on April 17th, and have played 52 games since then. Their team is ranked Gold I, which means they are in the top of Gold Division. This sounds really great on paper but in order for them to be LCS tournament material, they have to go up 2 more tiers, each with 5 divisions within them. That means there are many hundreds of teams ahead of them in the standings. So they are relatively new, and for a “pro” team, they have an extremely low ranking.

So we’ve established that no, they’re not one of the best teams in the League, and typically only the best of the best teams get sponsorship. But from a sponsor’s perspective, you don’t need to be the best team; you need to be a very highly visible team that stands out. If being female makes you stand out (which it unfortunately does in most video games), then you can get sponsored for being female. Some people are shouting “That’s wrong! LoL should be a meritocracy where only the best players get sponsored!” Well, Riot Games DOES sponsor only the best players; but that doesn’t stop independent sponsors from paying for their own teams. League of Legends is still a meritocracy; the sponsorship of Team Siren (an awful name if you ask me), has not given them a free pass into the LCS by any means. It just means that someone has decided it’s worth money to pay these women to play LoL publicly, and maybe it means that the team owners are making money off the spectacle of women playing video games.

So-called attention whoring comes into play because for a team to be sponsored, they have to be highly visible. Nobody wants to own a team that doesn’t generate money in some way. This team is not likely to win any big tournaments for the next little while, so how do they keep the sponsors happy? By getting a lot of attention, of course. I don’t think that the players themselves necessarily want the attention. They might be fine with it, which is why they joined a specifically all-female team, but that doesn’t mean they paid for the cheesy video to be produced, and had control of how they are portrayed in it. You have to remember that sponsorship and having a corporate team means that someone else gets to decide who you are now. If the sponsors don’t like how you portray yourself, your sponsorship gets pulled. So I don’t think these women are “attention whoring”, which is just calling attention to yourself for the sake of attention (a dubious accusation anyway). Their team owners or sponsors have a specific agenda that they are trying to further, and will manipulate the images of these women as they see fit. I might let someone do that if it meant I could play video games professionally/could handle the hate river that I know would ensue.

This all may seem like I am arguing completely in favour of Team Siren and against their vocal opponents. But this is not the case. I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of marketing and packaging women as a spectacle of any kind. While unavoidable in this kind of sphere where women are such a rarity, I dislike how it’s been handled. I feel like they portrayed them in a really cheesy manner, instead of promoting them as human beings with skills. When you see them it is obvious that they’re all female. There isn’t any need to draw special attention to that, as they have in the video. There is also no need to tell anyone that the LoL community is mostly male. That’s also common knowledge. However, if your goal is to promote women in LoL, you have to be kind of in-yo-face about it because otherwise nobody knows who you are. I am torn because I feel like this might be one more way for advertisers to objectify women, but at the same time having an (in)famous all-female team really does help the community along in terms of gender inclusion. Calling attention to the fact that they are female is addressing the very real gender gap in LoL.

When I was 13 and playing a lot of Starcraft, there was SCGirls. They were a pretty elite group. They weren’t sponsored, but just the idea of there being an all-female guild of kickass players was really amazing to me. I only happened to find out about SCG because my guild played some games against them. We got pwned. And I was amazed! Wow! There were other girls out there playing SC, and they were really awesome! And in an all-female team, nobody can say that you only made it because your (male) teammates saved you/did all the work. That was really heartening for me.

Sadly, it’s still not widely socially acceptable for women to be in the same games as men. Barriers do exist, and I think there are reasons outside of raw ability that there isn’t even one female player in the pro teams across the entire world. The community, while better than it used to be, is still harsh. I don’t know how much of a chance Team Siren have at LCS, but I’m glad they exist, cheesy video or not, and I hope they inspire some 13 year old girls to keep playing LoL.

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