By Pooja Khajuria, Consultant
Video games are silently becoming more like traditional sports. During the last couple of years, while athletes were locked down in their homes, the popularity of virtual sports grew even more. These include entirely new online games played competitively by professionals for huge rewards with a massive fan following.
Esports audience size has grown massively year-over-year between 2019 and 2021. In 2019, it was estimated that there are about 197 million esports enthusiasts, which grew to 234 million in 2021. Last year, the video game industry expanded in value to US$300 billion, exceeding both the movie and sports industries, according to a report by Accenture (a).
Across the world, except Africa, there are 12 professional leagues with over 1000 professional players. Some of these players who play games like “League of Legends” in America are assured a minimum salary of $75,000 or more (b). Older sports like F1 and Football are also joining in. Michael Jordan has invested in Team Liquid, which plays in around a dozen esports. The money is pouring in, and the industry is expected to only grow bigger and bigger. For the first time, it pays to be a video gamer.
Despite this, if you look at the team competing in League of Legends’ 2021 North American season, you will find only a single Black player. While, Overwatch League has had only a few Black players in its ranks since the league’s founding, in 2017. Similarly, Dota 2, Counterstrike and the digital card game Hearthstone all have very few black players (c).
Black esports players are often only represented in the world they helped build – the FGC.
In the 2019 edition of EVO, a premier fighting-game tournament, nine Black players across eight different titles scored top-10 finishes. So, it is not that black kids do not excel at esports they just have been offered a seat at the table in a select few leagues. And the games that they do continue to dominate, do not nearly have the same financial backing as others.
Esports is young, modern, and built from the ground up just over the past three decades, yet it could not escape the sheer weight of structural inequality. A major reason for the inequality in the sport comes down to one factor – the accessibility to the right technology. The competitive esports with a lack of Black representation are usually in the same category – they are team-based, often released exclusively for PCs, and need a steady internet connection. Naturally, this prohibits kids without a PC and Wi-Fi. This is not to say that players do not face explicit racism. The audience and other players often flood live streaming chats with racial slurs.
Though there is some hope as technology becomes more accessible for the current and coming generations and more Indie game developers make games more accessible and show diverse representation (d). Growing communities of black gamers like Women Got Game Summit and Melanin Gamers are also bringing together gamers of colour and providing everyone with a platform to learn and share (e).
(a) Accenture. (2021). GAMING: THE NEXT SUPER PLATFORM. https://accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-152/Accenture-Gaming-Article.pdf
(b) The pandemic has accelerated the growth of e-sports. (n.d.). The Economist. https://www.economist.com/international/2020/06/27/the-pandemic-has-accelerated-the-growth-of-e-sports
(c) THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF ESPORTS. (2021). The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2021/05/why-esports-so-segregated/618768/
(d) INDIE DEVELOPERS ARE LEADING THE WAY FOR BETTER REPRESENTATION IN GAMING. (2022). The Eyeopener. https://theeyeopener.com/2022/01/indie-developers-are-leading-the-way-for-better-representation-in-gaming/
(e) The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Esports. (2021). Checkpoint XP. https://checkpointxp.com/2021/05/27/the-importance-of-diversity-and-inclusion-in-esports/
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