Diversity isn’t tokenism, it’s a necessity

Courtesy of sport1
Kim “Gegir” Se-yeon is the first female player to be signed to a team competing in the Overwatch League. She’ll play off-tank for the Shanghai Dragons.

By Zach Landau | Editor-in-Chief

02/15/2018

As announced on Twitter yesterday, South Korean player Kim “Geguir” Se-yeon will be signed to the Shanghai Dragons. Not only does this mark a significant nab for the Dragons, who are currently dead last in the Overwatch League (OWL), but also for Se-yeon, who will be the one of the first female players in this section of the esports scene.

That’s right. The first — and so far only — female player in the entire league of more than 100.

Geguri has requested to be left out of discussions about gender inclusivity and the League, and I will respect that to an extent. However, her story is a bit unnerving for a number of reasons, namely its vagueness and its implications.

I understand why she would like to be left out of this discourse. Gender politics in gaming, if you don’t know, can be heated, and by heated, I mean people have fled their homes for fear of being attacked. I’m serious. People’s lives are ruined over the topic, and for a player to ask to stay out of this discussion is understandable.

There’s also the extra scrutiny that Geguri would be under. Houston Outlaws player Jacob “JAKE” Lyon accurately stated that any female player hired would face an uphill climb for acceptance.

“People would always be doubting, always be judging,” JAKE stated.

Not only that, but I understand the “I’m a player first” attitude Geguri seems to have. She may not want to be pigeonholed into being the female OWL player or for her only accomplishment being the first to break the glass ceiling for the League. I get that. I personally know professional women who feel like they have to compete not only for respect in their fields, but against the assumptions they face because of their gender.

However.

None of this would be a problem, none of this would be an issue, if the Overwatch community wasn’t so virulently spiteful against women in the first place. Whenever the (justified) criticisms came out against OWL teams not signing any women, the community was up in arms instantly.

“They aren’t good enough!”

“You’re picked because of your skill! Not your gender!”

“Teams are built on merit!”

And so on.

These sound like valid complaints on the surface. However, take a closer look, and they immediately begin to fall apart.

First, Geguri is great at Overwatch, so much so that she had to record herself playing the game to dispel accusations of cheating (which were definitely not gender-based) (note the sarcasm). She’s also one of the best players in South Korea, which is where top players are predominantly coming from. Being Top 10 in the ladder there is a huge demonstration of skill, even more so if you top it completely. Which Geguri did.

Also, quick aside: I find it hysterical that the children whining about skill would be wrecked by Geguri. But anyway.

Accusations that she, or any highly skilled female player, weren’t good enough to be hired are flagrantly false regardless, as team owners admitted that they hired players for reasons other than skill. During a Q&A session, the Outlaws addressed language barriers and co-ed housing as issues in hiring female players on top of the aforementioned scrutiny they would face.

These are ridiculous, obviously. The Dragons have a language barrier to overcome as well, but that isn’t stopping them from signing on Koreans to a Chinese team, and public school teachers somehow manage to get co-ed housing for overnight field trips, no bother.

There is definitely an anxiety over hiring female players, however, that the Outlaws’ statements do address. Despite being honest about the problem, the team seems incapable of recognizing their contributions to perpetuating the fear of hiring women to esports teams. The Outlaws, and every other team in the League, would not have to justify hiring female teammates if they just brought them on in the first place. It’s a self-made dilemma that is slowly being addressed, but the fact it has to be addressed is just ridiculous.

But maybe you don’t care about basic human dignity, as I’m sure 90 percent of the men reading this and foaming at the mouth are. I wouldn’t be surprised; if I’ve learned one thing during the past few years, it’s that diversity isn’t valuable in and of itself in the manosphere, and there must be a tangible impact on the lives of men before they begin to care. Fine, fair enough. Most people don’t actually engage on a significant discussion of leftist issues in their lives, and to redress that, I want to use OWL’s diversity problem to highlight why inclusion is so important.

To that end, let’s talk Mercy.

To the uninitiated, Mercy is a support hero (character) in Overwatch and represented an easy-but-useful role in the roster. Her main ability — a single-target healing beam — doesn’t require much technical skill, but when combined with certain characters and her other abilities, Mercy can be a critical pick that can easily turn the tide of battle at higher levels of play. Critical to her kit was her Resurrection ability, a powerful tool that would revive fallen allies to full health in a certain radius.

Over the past few months, Resurrection was switched out with something called Valkyrie — in essence, an ability that takes Mercy’s base kit and turns it up to 11. The change was ridiculed by some fans for not only removing one of the most iconic lines from the game (a triumphant “Heroes never die!”), but also turning what is meant to be an entry-level character that teaches the basics of the game to a standard pick. Suddenly, new players were thrust into the center stage and forced to endure the pressure of carrying teams. I know for myself that I would hesitate to suggest Mercy as a new player’s first pick. They would be under a lot of negative pressure to perfect a character that, despite assumptions, actually requires a high-level of skill to play effectively.

Why would Blizzard make such a change to easily the one of the most iconic heroes in the game? Well, as game director Jeff Kaplan explained, the development team looks for feedback from professional players. Mercy’s rework was the result of teams and OWL participants (who later admitted that they don’t like the character anyway and would like to see her removed from the game entirely) bemoaning the hero who was particularly designed not to appeal to them.

Coupled with Mercy changes were changes to Junkrat, a character that basically is almost the definition of spray-and-pray. His kit was buffed to deal ridiculous amounts of damage in mere seconds, turning him into an absolute nightmare for lower-skilled players. Other characters — such as Symmetra, D.Va and Ana — received buffs as well, turning the entire game’s balance on its head. There was such a wave of damage being dealt that healers were proving more and more ineffective. An outcry for another to be added to the roster was made and heard, as the newcomer Moira was created specifically to meet this need.

All of these changes were the results of pro Overwatch players’ demands, and it’s hard not to see why having a league composed entirely of men created such a disaster. Listening to interviews, it is clear that these players value two things above all else: skill and damage. If a hero wasn’t chosen by them, their damage was boosted. Mercy, who could undo all of that damage instantly, was therefore changed to fit this attitude. Her Resurrection required “no skill,” according to these players who blissfully ignored the fact that it does take a lot of skill to properly position Mercy in a fight and that there are plenty of other characters that require “no skill” as well. The difference between Mercy and the likes of Doomfist or McCree? Mercy’s “skillessness” is supportive, unlike the other characters who all have insta-kill abilities.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? If you have a homogeneous group dictating the direction of the game, then of course there going to be problems. Because the Overwatch team was so preoccupied with meeting the needs of the all-male OWL, they left out the voices of people who could offer a different perspective — one that may value supporting roles (which, by the by, are coded-female, but that’s a whole other topic). The result was a game that was dominated by imbalance and disgruntled fans that had to suffer through changes meant to please an unrepresentative minority.

And that’s why diversity is important. The inclusion of female players in the OWL is not just a matter of tokenism or whatever made up fantasy manchildren are whining about today, but an active necessity for the health of a project. If more female players were part of the discussion, were on the ground floor of those changes, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen a nearly six-month-long coup over one character. Sure, maybe Geguri wouldn’t agree, and I’m not saying she would. If this piece ever winds up on her screen, I apologize for bringing her into this conversation against her wishes.

What I am saying, however, is that this conversation has to happen. Over 100 players and not a single one of them were women. What is being left off the table when we just allow that to happen? Whatever those answers might be, I feel confident in saying that we would never have had the Mercy drama if more women were consulted in that decision.

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