Amplifying Voices:
Finding Diversity in Esports

Research Track

10/09/20, 2:00PM - 3:00PM PT

About the Presentation

Over the course of the last several years-- building from a project that actually started when we founded our varsity esports program at Miami University-- I have been looking at what I'm sure is a familiar challenge for anyone in the esports space: where is the diversity? Games, as we know, defy the lore of being a ""white boy's club"" and have a rich, diverse player base (with women in their 30s actually being the single largest demographic). But in professional and collegiate esports, the number of women, and the number of non-white, non-Chinese and non-Korean players is staggeringly low.

Working with a colleague, I have built a hypothesis and research plan that I hope will help the field to locate and showcase diversity. We know that there are diverse players in most competitive esports titles at the casual level, and we know that when we get to the professional or highly-competitive collegiate (varsity) level most of that diversity disappears. What we don't know, though, are three key elements: (1) when does the audience/player-base change? Are diverse players not entering competitive spaces, or is the issue more like what was witnessed in the NBA 2K League where diversity still existed going into the ""combine"" level just below the pro draft only to see nearly all the diverse players fail to make the draft pool? (2) why are diverse players not moving deeper into competitive spaces? and (3) how do we correct whatever block is in place (or how do we explain the difference between the full group of a game's players and the ""elite"" players that are the highest ranked/most decorated in competition).

My research to this point consists of a series of ten case studies that trace the activities of diverse players in order to answer the questions above. These case studies are triangulated with a widely-circulated survey and an overview of key collegiate and professional rosters for the games League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone. The results, to this point, indicate that there are five major issues that impact how diverse players are filtered out of competition: (1) a traumatic experience (or series of experiences) with the game community and/or at a competition, (2) less desire to play at an ultra-competitive level, (3) a lack of previous life experiences with competition (e.g. having played sports or competed in early-life events) (4) lack of access to high-end equipment and/or network connectivity and (5) lack of time and/or the access to a peer group that would allow the player to hone skills.

There will be a paper, though I am envisioning this more as a presentation/talk with key points, as the research continues, and while I believe I have useful, compelling data and results already, I am far from finished with this investigation (I am working on a book manuscript on the topic).

Phill Alexander, PhD

Assistant Professor of Game Studies and Co-Director of Varsity Esports, Miami University.

Dr. Phill Alexander is a games professor and co-director of varsity esports at Miami University in sunny Oxford, OH. His newest book, Esports for Dummies, is available now.