In Defence of Female-Only Esports Leagues
Depending on who you ask, you might get a variety of different opinions on female-only esports leagues (and before anyone asks, trans women are included in female-only). Some people think they are a really stupid concept, and I can see where they're coming from, having separate leagues for women could create a different standard for women, and that your gender shouldn't be taken into account in espots, but if you ask me, they are important — at least in these early stages of the scene.
To understand why these leagues and tournaments are essential, we need to tackle the most crucial aspect of competitive games — teamwork. The biggest esports shooter currently is Counter-Strike. That popularity is represented by the Blast.tv Paris Major, which had a prize pool of $1,250,000! This game, with many other competitive ones such as Overwatch, Valorant, and League of Legends all have teamwork as one of the most important aspects. A pro player's aim and game sense aren't necessarily better than the highest ranked non-pro players, but the ability to work together, execute plans, and understand how to compensate for your teammates' mistakes is what sets them apart. These titles are also defined by their learning curves — the longer you spend playing, the better you get. If you learn about the game and are passionate about it, you will get better and better.
Another thing almost all competitive games have in common is an awfully toxic community. Any mistake you make in Counter Strike 2 will get your entire family insulted. And God forbid you accidentally team damage — you'll be lucky if you don't get kicked out of the match for the 2 HP you cost them. Combine a community like this with needing teamwork, and it's a recipe for disaster already, but that's not the worst yet. Being a woman (or anyone with a vaguely feminine-sounding voice) is absolutely horrible. Being either harassed or ignored when speaking on voice chat, the best choice left would be to not communicate with the team, which will make climbing the ranks a lot harder. This treatment also makes female players not want to learn the game and try to get better.
The few women who do manage to deal with all of that, and do get to a level of pro-play, hit another barrier — being accepted into a team. With a community that's actively misogynistic towards female players, what team would dare risk its PR and hire a woman? And even if somehow this is dealt with, you might have to deal with sexism from the coaches, fellow players, and tournament organisers — almost all of whom are men. All of these things discourage women from playing competitive games and trying to go pro, having extra challenges even after making it to pro level. People have tried to explain the skill difference differently — with women having a slower physical reaction time — which is partially true but is offset by having a faster mental reaction time.
In order to deal with all of these problems, esports leagues and tournaments in which only women are allowed have been created. You won't get sexist and misogynistic comments from your teammates if they are all women. It also gives some encouragement back to any potential female pro player — you have something to look for once you become good enough at the game. It's a pretty nice solution to help get women into the esports scene, but it's not without problems.
First, these leagues are massively underfunded: the tournaments have very low prize pools compared to the standard leagues. Looking at the ESL leagues, the male league has a prize pool of $850,000 while the female league only has $123,000. It's not just prize pools, either, the coaches and gear provided aren't as good, and it's not as marketed and has fewer sponsors. These also have a massive skill gap between the standard tournaments, of which all players are men and the female pros. Less training and leagues airing less often makes learning and improving, especially at the pro level, really difficult — and the low amount of hype they get from the community discourages the players from improving.
While these are very big problems, they don't discredit the concept of female-only esports tournaments. Until the toxicity and misogyny prevalent in the communities for these sorts of games are dealt with, it might be the only chance for women to get to pro level and play for teams in leagues and tournaments. Additionally, all of those issues are only concerning the implementation, and not the idea itself. The benefits of having this for female players to have a way to play the games they like professionally while not having to deal with the abuse and sexism they'll face in the standard esports scene massively outweigh the negatives.
Now, when I say these are important, I don't mean forever, and I don't mean that esports should be gender-segregated. Female players should be allowed to play in mainstream standard teams if they wish to and qualify, and eventually, there should just be one mainstream esports scene for every game. Right now, though, having tournaments reserved for, and teams made up of, only women should help to encourage women to pursue esports careers.