Gender, Ettiquette, Conduct, and ESportsmanship

A brief look at my own failings and shortsightedness, and my attempts to course-correct before even beginning... 

Preparing to form an ESports team

I am currently in the process of researching, planning, and hopefully implementing an ESports club or team for the HS / MS level at my school district, along with our new Superintendent and our Director of Technology. This is a more daunting challenge that one would expect. Don't get me wrong, NASEF along with the Emerald Foundation has everything in place that one would need to get started, but one must wait on administrative and board permission before hitting that "Activate" button. There are a lot of people that we need to have a "yes" from before we proceed. As a result I've had a lot of time to think about what I, and hopefully we, want this to look like, which is a good thing when vision casting for something completely new to your institution.

Ultimately, we're looking for an inclusive activity that supports students that are not normally involved in extracurricular activities (such as traditional sports) in character development, peer relationships, and positive connections to school. The work of Constance Steinkuehler, Ph.D. Department of Informatics Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences University of California, Irvine, is showing Esports to help students build character and develop discipline, self-esteem and sportsmanship through practice and gameplay.

As I have been thinking about this, two things emerged. First, I was thinking about how to create a non-toxic culture in our yet-to-be-formed group. Second, I was beginning to get a picture of what this group would look like. As I was mowing the lawn a few days ago (Yes, it is still crazy hot here in central PA and the grass is still growing), I was listening to this Podcast where James O' Hagan talks about the difficulty of recruiting female players on the collegiate level. Women don't want all-women's teams. They want the best players to play. It turns out that my picture of what this group would look like, despite all of my hopes to be inclusive, was very wrong. 

Gender Bias in Gaming Culture

So, without thinking about it, I had already completely surrendered to the gender bias in gaming culture and pictured a team that was all male. The crazy part is that I am a semi-serious gamer these days, and the groups I PvP with are very diverse, along lines of race, gender, orientation, etc. What's more, some of our best players (way better than myself I might add) are women. I have had female students tell me about their Overwatch characters of choice, and a student who identified as non-binary explain League of Legends to me because I don't understand MOBA's. Still, when one pictures an Esports team, the immediate mental picture is predominantly male. That image is reinforced, not only by teams we see competing, but also in things as ubiquitous as stock image search. When writing a post, I go to Unsplash first to look for images. Searching "Esports" gives zero photos featuring female players. Searching "gamer" gives the two images found in this article (clearly they could only find two stock images for female gamers too) and a new one today of a woman gaming in her underwear. Oddly, there are not pictures of dudes gaming in their underwear. 

So, rather than be a part of the problem, I'm hoping to be a force of change, right here in central PA. I've been reading up on the scene and the challenges. There is a lot of great stuff out there. If you're getting ready to start a team, I highly recommend reading Women in Gaming: An Introduction. This blog post was written by Coach Bethany Pyles, who works as NASEF's Esports Coaching Coordinator. This was as very eye-opening read. I also am making frequent use of the ideas presented in How to get more female gamers involved in professional Esports, by Brenda Ronan. Finally, the piece I mentioned earlier (and block quoted below) that used the same two Unsplash photos I'll be using here, includes profiles of women in Esports. I plan to have my Graphic Design oriented students turn those into Women in Esports posters, similar to the Women in STEM posters we put up around our Learning Commons. 
Where eSports was once an industry dominated by men, almost 50% of all gamers in the world today are female. (Women in eSports: Why They’re the Market to Watch)
I also recommend the podcast, Jessamyn Acebes: Growing as a Woman in Esports. At one point the question is asked, how we should treat women and girls on our teams and the answer,"Just be a normal person, actually," was funny on the surface, yet reflective of how far we have to go.

Conduct Codes, PR, and Follow through

So a big part of organizing any team is dealing with teamwork, adrenaline, and conflict. When you add in the culture of toxicity that's prevalent in multi-player gaming culture, you have a pretty steep cliff to climb when organizing an Esports team.

Luckily, developing a code of conduct will not be as monumental a task as I had originally presumed. For starters, most leagues and organizations, like NASEF, have a code of conduct already prepared for you.

There are also numerous resources from full-blown codes of conduct, such as An esports Code of Conduct, to organizations to help you create a more inclusive program overall, like AnyKey and NASEF's #GameChangers: Esports for Everyone.  
As esports competitors we should never: Use language, nicknames or other expressions that insult another player’s gender, gender identity, origin, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion or age.Use language or actions that refer to sexual violence or other violence. (An esports Code of Conduct: For players, organizers and parents)
Another organization to watch is Women of Esports. They don't have much content up yet, but you're missing out if you don't read their first article, A day with Cloud9’s Susie Kim: Presented by Ateyo.

A Code of Conduct is helpful, but it not only needs to be enforced but be made to seep into the culture. Why am I having kids invest time in creating posters about female gamers? Why am I determined to recruit a diverse team? I want to build a culture, like the one John Robertson has in his school where students enforce the code, informally and non-judgmentally, in a way that reminds their peers, "this is not okay". I also want to feed into an Esports ecosystem from HS to College to Pro that leads to more diverse pictures on Unsplash.  

Ultimately, sooner rather than later, we're going to be scrimming a team that is light years ahead of us. we're going to be dealing with teamwork, adrenaline, and conflict in a real and tense situation. When the stress seeps in the old habits seep out. It's in that context the culture will show it's true colors, and that's where I'm sitting right now. What strategies have worked for you seasoned EsportsEdu facilitators? What strategies have backfired? Please tweet me or comment below with any and all feedback. Let's get a conversation going that goes beyond a brief Twitter chat (those are awesome - don't get me wrong). We need each other. Let's build the culture we want to see. As the feeder program for the whole ecosystem, we have the most potential to make a difference.

Parting Shots 

While I clearly don't have a great deal of wisdom or experience here (heck, I've probably made several gaffs while trying to wrestle with this issue in this very post), I do have a great community to look to. So, before I go, here are the folks I'm letting speak into my space and inform my program as it shapes up. It's a diverse list, but I hope you'll find it helpful. Consider it a little #followfriday action:
Obviously, there are so many more. I've just listed folks that have lots of links to other folks you should follow, or those with whom I have had actual conversations.

Also, keep an eye on these sites:


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