Treatment of Female Twitch Streamers Proves Industry Needs to Grow Up
Recent events in gaming have shone a poor light on how female Twitch streamers, women in content creation, esports and gaming in general are treated by the general public. Not only have they had to put up with harassment from male competitors, colleagues, and fans, they’ve also had to put up with sniping and infighting from other women in the industry.
That’s not okay, and it needs to change.
The Harsh Reality of Being a Female Creator in Esports
Imane Anys, better known to the Twitch community as Pokimane, faced intense Twitter backlash when it was “outed” that she had a boyfriend last week. It was an almost unprecedented amount of drama for the streamer, who is typically seen to be pretty positive, and interacts with her community on a daily basis.
Even if she did have a boyfriend, why should it matter? Fans seem to have felt “lied to” about her relationship status, leading many in the community to question why people were that upset – after all, a Twitch streamer that gets tens of thousands of viewers is unlikely to single out just one viewer and date them. Even if it was a fantasy of these viewers, they were deluding themselves. That didn’t stop the waves of hate headed her way, however, and demonstrated the amount of toxicity that female Twitch streamers, content creators, pro players, and even professionals in esports have to face on a daily basis.
“I’ve been a content creator for almost 10 years now, and the story has never changed,” Twitch streamer Cryssy, who streams Apex Legends, told Esports Talk. “ In the past, I have experienced people sending me inappropriate pictures, photoshopping my face onto other peoples’ nude bodies, and have received death threats on my personal Facebook page after starring in the WoW documentary after it was aired to millions of people in 2014. When I was starting out as a creator in my teens, these experiences were often met with “just ignore/block them” or “you don’t actually have that happen to you” when I’d comment on how hurtful or disgusting peoples’ comments towards me were.”
This is something that’s not right and applies across the board in esports, not even just in the Twitch streaming world. Pro players who are female are constantly put under a different lens than their male counterparts – they get less opportunities to go pro, have to deal with politics when they do play with a mixed team (which, as we said, is rare,) and generally have to prove themselves “worthy” a lot more than their male counterparts.
Sometimes, even trying to prove themselves ended up being more harmful than not.
“I’d be told I was attracting drama (even by industry professionals who put on a façade of being feminist) by responding or defending myself and oftentimes made the experiences worse,” Cryssy continued. “I left creating content a few years later, only to return to it in my mid-twenties when I felt I could handle the harassment. Through these experiences and as I grew older, it became more obvious to me that women are disproportionately marginalized as online influencers and content creators, especially in the games industry, and echo chambers on the internet such as on Reddit or 4chan that go unmoderated lead to the constant harassment women face daily. “
Opportunities for Women Aren’t as Numerous, nor as Profitable
They also typically earn far less than their male counterparts in esports simply due to a lack of opportunity on their part – female-only tournaments pay far less than the typical events, and since female teams get less practice and scrim opportunities against their male dominated teams, they tend to not be quite as sharp and lose out in open qualifiers for events. For example, the top female earner in CSGO is Ksenia “vilga” Klyuenkova, who has only earned about $51,000 according to Esports Earnings. The top male earners in CSGO have already crested over $1 million, just in prize earnings, not to mention lucrative sponsorships, Twitch subscriptions, and team contracts. Even at the high end in StarCraft 2, Scarlett tops female earnings with just over $368,000 – a far cry from the top end of the leaderboard and only places her in 323rd overall.
These sorts of performances lead to ground-breaking headlines when a female competitor does manage to win at an event – “female wins Hearthstone championship!” the headlines read. But then you go to the comments section – “pretty good, for a girl!” It’s that sort of tokenism in coverage that perpetuates the attitude of folks online in the esports community. That the competitor is female shouldn’t be the biggest part of the story, but it ends up being that way because the author wants to celebrate the accomplishments of a female gamer. While these are good intentions, and certainly ones that are understandable given the news cycle of a typical day in esports, it ends up being toxic.
Inclusivity Isn’t a Meme
This happens even in the most “inclusive” of esports communities, namely Super Smash Bros. and the FGC. Not only did it recently become pretty clear that these events have been somewhat dangerous for women for some time due to rampant sexual harassment and other problems that occur both at events and after parties, but it’s become very clear that female Twitch streamers, players, and content creators face harassment online from fans in a particularly bad way.
Every performance becomes tinged with a view of “oh, well they were playing against a girl, so I didn’t want to go hard on them.” Fans end up questioning these performances, and worse yet, sexually harassing women on social media over them. Views of a skilled gamer who happens to be female end up becoming prime targets for lonely male gamers who want to date someone they viewed as just as skilled as they are.
Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of figureheads in the FGC and in other places, it’s become pretty clear that the community at large has begun treating the entire situation like a joke, meming on the situation and turning it into far less than what it is. Not only does this drown out the situation as a whole, it also dilutes the message that figureheads are trying to put out there, and makes the stories that these women are strong enough to tell less impactful than they should be.
To fix the issue, men have to take the time to listen to women in esports and gaming – as they are dealing with a level of harassment that is in many ways indecent. Most men seem ignorant to the problem, but there has been exceptions to that rule, and some outspoken people that have been trying to stand up for women in the community.
“A lot of girls have to sit with a level of harassment that is not okay,” TKBreezy said in the Hard Reads podcast on the Preediction network. “Males in general do not have to sit with the same level of harassment. 0-2 players can just be 0-2 players and be nobody for the entirety of their Smash existence. A female smasher, is going to get attention all the time just for existing. A lot of men don’t get that. So whenever I see men complaining about harassment, like it happens to them all the time, it really comes down to you really don’t know the kind of harassment that women go through. People will make random accounts to harass women, say grotesque things to women in general, especially if they are connected to someone famous.”
Build Up, Not Tear Down
That’s far from the only problem facing women in the community. Sometimes, the problem comes from other women in the gaming space, who see these female Twitch streamers as rivals of a sort and will snipe to pull each other down. This ends up having a negative side effect of confirming some biases that men have about women in gaming, and even biases that women have about the industry from the outside looking in.
“The double edged sword to all of this is that there are also women within the games space who also share in misogynistic views because they want to be “the cool girl” – this is a mindset that many women, including myself, early on in their career often take on so that they don’t offend or ruin any connections that they have with other creators,” Cryssy concluded. “This kind of ideology contributes to those negative stereotypes and harassment that women so often face as creators. If we want to see female twitch streamers and creators thrive in our industry, we need to protect and lift them up – and take their experiences seriously. We need to believe women and create safer spaces for them to create content.”