IeSF removes male-only restriction from its e-sports tournaments

Phil Savage at

Yesterday, I reported on the IeSF—the International e-Sports Federation—and how the gender segregation of their e-sports tournaments had led to a male-only Hearthstone qualifier at Finland's Assembly Summer 2014. Today, the IeSF released a statement announcing that they have removed the male-only restriction from their e-sports events. They also contacted us to explain their reasons for having one in the first place.

First the good news. Here's the IeSF's statement abolishing their male-only tournaments:

"On 2nd of July, 2014, the IeSF’s policy about gender division, which separates the female division and the male division, has been brought into question. The IeSF has listened to the gaming community and has carefully considered their opinions. Upon hearing these concerns, the IeSF convoked an emergency session of the IeSF Board to respond.

"As a result, IeSF shall have two event categories: 'Open for All' events and events that are reserved for women. The events which were initially set aside as the male division will now be open to all genders, and the events which were initially set as the female division will remain as they were.

"The IeSF Board addressed its reason for maintaining events for women, citing the importance of providing female gamers with ample opportunities to compete in e-Sports—currently a male-dominated industry. Female gamers make up half of the world’s gaming population, but only a small percentage of e-Sports competitors are women. The IeSF’s female-only competitions aim to bring more diversity to competitive play by improving the representation of women at these events. Without efforts to improve representation, e-Sports can’t achieve true gender equality.

"In order to apply the new policy with consistency, IeSF has added an 'Open for All' Tekken Tag Tournament 2 tournament, which was initially set aside for female-only competition."

The new tournament set-up looks like this:

  • Open for All: Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Ultra Street Fighter 4, Hearthstone, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
  • Female Competition: Starcraft 2, Tekken Tag Tournament 2

As a result of this decision, the Finnish Hearthstone qualifier that first sparked the controversy has also removed its gender restriction. "We thank everyone who took part in this process," states a message on its event page. The qualifier's organisers, the Finnish eSports Federation, yesterday told me that they had previously lobbied the IeSF to remove gender segregation.

It seems as if Blizzard were also involved in petitioning the IeSF. Talking to VentureBeat, a Blizzard spokesperson said, "one of our goals with e-sports is to ensure that there’s a vibrant and also inclusive community around our games. We do not allow the use of our games in tournaments that do not support this, and are working with our partners to ensure they share the same goal."

So why exactly were the IeSF separating men and women? The IeSF's Alex Lim, general manger of international relations, contacted PC Gamer to explain.

"It is important to note the rationale for IeSF’s efforts to join the international sports society," Lim says, "and why IeSF initial created a gender division policy." Lim explains that part of the IeSF's goal is to secure traditional sports status for e-sports, so as to better support professional players.

"The structure of a sports society, which is able to support the athletes to live their life related to the sports or even out of the sports, is vital for the long term success of the players," he says. "By providing opportunities to continue school through scholarship IeSF can insure the athlete’s life, even after their retirement from the competition scene, will continue to be successful."

As part of that process, the IeSF have been preparing to apply for Sport Accord membership. "While applying IeSF found out that it is one of the requirements to have active women promotion to join," Lim says. "IeSF approached this matter by following traditional sports. From the tradition sports scene, men were dominating, and international sports society decided to install women division to increase the involvement of women in more easy and efficient way."

"Of course in traditional sports there has been the physiological difference between genders that make it necessary to separate the genders in sports," he continues. "However, it was hard to apply to e-Sports since there has not been any evidence that can be applied to e-Sports. Though some says there is no physiological factor which may affect the performance of men and women, there are others who believe that dynamic visual acuity and precise control may differ by the gender, which may affect the performance."

"It is the third year testing women promotion events, and we truly believe that has grown the women player pool in competitive events," Lim says. "IeSF hopes that both men and women will continue to enjoy and compete in e-Sports and e-Sports can be a unique sport that men and women can both compete at an equal level."

If their goal was admirable, their methods were entirely the wrong way to go about promoting women in e-sports. And even that excuse falls flat when you take into account that many of the games in the IeSF World Championship had no women's competition at all.

Some will be rankled by the idea that women-only competitions are remaining, but the IeSF's 'open for all' category doesn't change the fact that women are still under-represented in e-sports. A separate competition is an inelegant solution to a very real problem—and at least now those that choose to participate in a unified tournament can.

[Image source: IeSF]