It’s a game that’s been acclaimed for its diverse and inclusive cast of characters, but somehow Overwatch‘s premier esports league has launched without a single female player.
Blizzard’s ambitious new esports league Overwatch League kicked off its inaugural season on Wednesday, and not one of the 12 teams has a single female player on its roster. Even worse: One of the best players in the world, Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, was overlooked explicitly because she’s female.
Before the Overwatch League took over the top tier of Overwatch esports, Korean player Se-yeon played with one of the top teams in the world, ROX Orca. ROX Orca competed in the highest league of competitive Overwatch at the time, APEX, where Se-yeon cemented herself as one of the best Zarya players ever.
Teams signed all their own players and were asked about the lack of females on their rosters as well as the specific absence of Se-yeon, Kotaku reported Wednesday. Their excuses were weak, to say the least.
Some teams cited language barrier concerns in regard to Se-yeon, which may be valid as communication is a key part to a team’s success. But teams brought up other oppositions, such as problems with co-ed housing, wanting a team that gels together, or outside people thinking the move would be a “PR stunt.”
The one organization that wanted a team that played well together right off the bat, London Spitfire, signed an all-Korean roster made up of players that previously played on different teams, so their reasoning has a pretty big hole in it.
The Houston Outlaws general manager Matt Rodriguez placed the blame for not signing a female player on the press, who, according to Rodriguez, could call the decision a PR stunt.
“You have to go through all these hurdles, like if you pick up a player, is the press gonna call it a PR stunt, or is it because she was the best?” he said.
A player on the Outlaws, Jake Lyons, said it might be hard for a female player like Se-yeon to handle the sort of negative perception that the Outlaws general manager had just pulled out of thin air.
“For that even to be the perception, it’d be so terrible to be her,” he said. “People would always be doubting, always be judging. So it has to be the right person, the right player, and those things have to come together at the right moment — which makes it especially hard for women in the scene right now.”
Scott Tester of the New York Excelsior mentioned to Kotaku that he would “absolutely” love to have a team that’s not all-men in the future.
Just not right now, apparently.
Esports have long been plagued with the problem of having almost no female representation at the top level, especially in team games. Overwatch League had a chance to turn this around by leveling the playing field and allowing teams to select the best players they could find instead of players forming teams by their own volition (which is how most successful teams in young esports start).
Unfortunately, none of the teams wanted to be the first one to sign a woman.