IeSF Changes Policies: Opens Up Competition to Women


After yesterday’s controversies and the incredible media attention brought upon the International eSports Federation (IeSF), the organization changed its policies for the upcoming international championship tournaments.

The controversy started with Reddit’s Hearthstone community noting the Hearthstone tournament in Finland’s Assembly Summer 2014 event only allowed men to compete. It turns out this was because winners of the tournament would advance to the IeSF World Championships in Baku, and that tournament only allowed male competitors.

Many in the community complained very loudly to the IeSF who defended the gender segregation saying it was in an attempt to get eSports seen as a legitimate international sporting event, which only raised the ire of more gamers and commentators.

After an emergency meeting of the IeSF board, the organization changed its tournament rules. There are now two divisions for tournaments and the international championships: “Open for All” events, and then a specific women’s event as well. this model much more closely resembles how professional chess is managed. In a press release, the IeSF stated “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 the world’s gaming population, but only a small percentage of e-Sports competitors are women.” The tournaments for the 6th e-Sports World Championship BAKU 2014 is as follows:

  • Open for All
    • DOTA 2
    • StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
    • Ultra Street Fighter 4
    • Hearthstone
  • Female Competition
    • Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm
    • Tekken Tag Tournament 2

It’s awesome that within 24 hours the organization was able to convene and open up the tournaments this way, but that still leaves the question: Why have separate women’s tournaments at all?

Alex Lim, who is in charge of international affairs at IeSF was kind enough to provide an answer.

IeSF did not mean any sexism or gender discrimination, but originally tried to make the scene good for females. […] 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. For those reasons IeSF has been putting so much efforts to join the international sports society, or to convince international sports authorities to add e-sports in their multi sports events such as 4th Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games hosted by Olympic Council of Asia. […] To achieve this goal, IeSF has 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. Applying such women promotion project to the structure of its event, IeSF approached this matter by following traditional sports.”

He went on to address the physiological differences in men an women and how that might or might not apply in games. “[I]t 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.”

Why, though, would there be a men’s only division for a game like Hearthstone where “visual acuity and precise control” don’t actually matter? Lim seemed to suggest that the reason was just a possible lack of female competitors. Since all the other tournaments were gender segregated, they may as well have kept Hearthstone segregated. This was their first year with a Hearthstone tournament after all, “[s]o, we could not be sure if we could have the female player pool for such a title.”

He ended the email stating, “IeSF also wants to apologize to anyone that got offended by the initial announcement. As we strive to do the best we can to promote e-sports as a true sport beyond any barriers, mistakes might happen along the way, but it is our duty as a community of e-Sports fans and enthusiasts to learn from those mistakes and to make sure they remain in the past.”

As any organization grows there will be growing pains, and hopefully this will be one of those moments we all can learn from in the future. Gaming is for everyone, and the more people we can encourage to play, even competitively, the better gaming can get.

Featured image courtesy IeSF

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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