ESL Gaming’s Senior Vice President, People & Culture Roberta Hernandez says esports gender-equality should be sustainable, inclusive and a good game for all
On International Women’s Day (8 March), ESL Gaming has a frank and forthright message for the esports and other entertainment sectors: it is urging them to champion only authentic and sustainable initiatives if they want to boost female empowerment and reduce gender inequalities.
The world’s leading esports company has kickstarted #GGFORALL, its new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) platform. It aims to level up the participation of professional women competitive-gaming players and the role of women in the whole sector.
And the first campaign under the #GGFORALL umbrella will be this year’s ESL Impact, an all-women tournament circuit that includes an impressive US$500,000 cash-prize.
Speaking exclusively to Esports BAR Blog, ESL Gaming’s Senior Vice President, People & Culture Roberta Hernandez makes no bones about the company’s corporate social responsibility to inspire the industry to slash the wide disparity between men and women players. An example is the still comparatively low income earned by the latter.
“We will build sustainable programmes. We will try it, we will test it, we will change it, but it will be sustainable,” Hernandez declares. “That is the concept we are using with #GGFORALL. Let’s make sure we are creating something that we can build on.”
The pledge is for the long haul, she insists. “We’ve started looking into the future and asking what is our three to five-year strategy around #GGFORALL. We are already looking at player development, making sure we’re fostering up-and-coming gamers with a special focus on women to develop and enable them to reach that plateau as professional gamers.”
Hernandez continues: “ESL Impact is one campaign for women that we will continue to grow. But we must make sure we get this right to move forward. And, hopefully, when people see we are sustaining and growing, they will come along with us. We are not going to shy away from this.”
Inequality for women is a reality
Hernandez does not shirk from addressing the frequently reported hostile atmosphere that has discouraged women and girls from taking up esports, a digital-first activity that theoretically should be accessible to all via the Internet.
Yet, women in professional esports continue to earn far less than their male counterparts.
It does not help when the action-packed narratives of most esports video games are overwhelmed by male characters.
There has been a constant cry from industry decision-makers to end this imbalance for female esports participants.
And just as International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements globally and pushes for an end to inequality (in most countries, women still earn only 60%-75% of men’s wages for the same work, ESL Gaming also wants to cancel the cultural and economic gaps in global esports.
With close to 50% of the world’s gamers being female, this should be achievable, according to Hernandez.
She is supported by figures in a recent esports report published by the ISFE, the European video-games trade organisation.
Currently, around 46% of the world’s video gaming enthusiasts are women – Roberta Hernandez
It says: “Currently, around 46% of the world’s video gaming enthusiasts are women. Although not yet at the same level, the number of female esports enthusiasts is growing at an accelerated rate and represents 38% of the audience.”
Increasing the number of women and girls interested in esports should be a social responsibility, Hernandez argues. “It is about making sure that when you are in a game, it is as positive as an environment can be without bullying or any of the other negative attributes that people are trying to combat.”
#GGFORALL wants to level the playing field
And that is where ESL Gaming’s #GGFORALL, which stands for “good game for all” can step in. “We are truly creating an environment that shows it is a good game for all, not just for females or males, but a broader sense of everybody. It is about providing that safe place for them to put their best self forward into the competition without distraction.”
We believe in the spirit of producing an environment where everybody can be somebody both internally and externally – Roberta Hernandez
Additionally, this is a vision it wants to share not only with its vast supportive esports communities, including the under-represented like disabled players, but also with employees.
“We believe in the spirit of producing an environment where everybody can be somebody both internally and externally,” Hernandez explains, noting that the company’s slogan is “Creating a world where everybody can be somebody.”
In 2022, ESL Impact will be the first professional women’s competition under the #GGFORALL banner. It will be based on the video game CS: GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive), which is published by Valve Corporation.
The Global Finals during ESL Impact’s first season will be held this June at DreamHack Dallas, part of ESL Gaming’s mega esports festival DreamHack. Season 2’s Global Finals will take place at DreamHack Winter in Jönköping, Sweden during November. In between, in July, the company will hold a separate ESL Impact competition at DreamHack Valencia, Spain.
The US$500,000 cash-prize pool includes US$150,000 for the first season with the remainder split among the second season, the standalone competition in Valencia, and other online contests for women-only teams.
Women have history with ESL Gaming
This is not the first time ESL Gaming has stepped up to raise women’s participation in competitive gaming. Hernandez points out that the blueprint for ESL Impact is the company’s competition called DreamHack Showdown, which launched in 2019 and was the first CS:GO competition of its kind.
Before that, in 2010, ESL Gaming introduced the StarCraft II series of tournaments for women based on the Blizzard Entertainment video game of the same name.
It is where
“With that women-only tournament, we provided the opportunity for her to step into that space of being a professional esports athlete. And she has propelled from there,” Hernandez says.
Growing with fairness for all genders
How is #GGFORALL going to enable ESL Gaming to maintain the momentum gained so far?
Future plans include considering other esports video-game titles for ESL Impact. The company’s venerable expertise in competitive-gaming events centres on organising a host of high-profile international tournaments based on games like CS: GO Dota 2, Rocket League, and StarCraft II. Expect those games to be joined by popular mobile-esports titles like Clash of Clans, Brawl Stars, Clash Royale, PUBG MOBILE and League of Legends: Wild Rift.
“ESL Gaming is the leader in the industry and we feel it is our responsibility to lead the way, regardless of whether other companies follow us or not,” Hernandez asserts.
There is always more to be done around diversity, equity and inclusion – Roberta Hernandez
So, what advice does Hernandez, whose high-profile career path has crossed the music industry (Universal Music Group), gaming (Zynga) and live entertainment (Live Nation), give to the competitive-gaming industry and the entertainment business when developing sustainable DEI policies?
“There is always more to be done around diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “And, for me, the biggest part of DEI is the Inclusion. You can attract talent to your organisation, to your communities; you can retain them. But if you don’t find a way to include them in the conversations, whatever they may be, you will lose them. If we are not finding a way to keep them, that is where we could fail.”