Overwatch World Cup 2018 / Photo Credit: Robert Paul/Blizzard
Overwatch World Cup 2018 / Photo Credit: Robert Paul/Blizzard

From the likes of Beyonce and Ariana Grande in the world of music to actresses like Keira Knightley who are making a mark in Hollywood and the movies, strong and inspiring female role models have emerged throughout a number of entertainment industries in recent years.

However, while they have even managed to make a breakthrough in areas as traditionally male-dominated as wrestling, one place where women have perhaps not yet had a real impact is in the world of professional competitive gaming – better known as eSports.

A global industry

While the idea of making a living out of playing video games sounds like a teenager’s dream, the concept has become a reality for some of the most talented players across the world. eSports has become a huge industry, with intelligence organisation Newzoo estimating that the value of the industry could reach $1.4 billion by 2020.

The huge fanbase and growth potential of the area has seen a range of major brands including Honda and Samsung get involved in sponsorship of teams and events, while an offshoot betting scene has also developed. Major iGaming brands like Betway now allow fans to track odds and bet on a range of different competitions, from events linked to League of Legends and Dota 2 to tournaments based around Rainbow Six and Starcraft II.

However, while it is estimated that three in 10 eSports fans are female, competitions tend to remain very male-dominated with only a handful of female players. Could 2019 be the year when that finally changes?

Can Overwatch help the cause?

Photo Credit: Blizzard
Photo Credit: Blizzard

One game which could play a role is Overwatch. First released back in May 2016, the multiplayer first-person shooter title has become a core title in the world of eSports, with the Overwatch League becoming a popular new entry in the world of competitive gaming.

Gearing up for its second season, the tournament differs from other competitions as it is based around a permanent set of city-based teams and does not use promotion and relegation like many other eSports competitions. Overwatch is also notable in the sense that it has a diverse set of characters, with arguably its headline hero Tracer of course being female. Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan told Time magazine that the developers wanted the game to offer a universe where “everybody feels like they could be a hero” and it is thought that the title has got a strong female following.

However, efforts to see female players make their mark on Overwatch arguably took a hit from the recent ‘Ellie’ controversy, where it was discovered that a female player signed up by Overwatch Contenders team Second Wind was in fact a male competitor

posing as a woman. It was suggested that the hoax was set up as a form of social experiment to examine how female gamers are treated within eSports, but some have criticised the move and warned that it will only mean the abilities of women in competitive gaming will be increasingly questioned and scrutinised going forward.

Progress being made

But while issues like the ‘Ellie’ controversy demonstrate just how far eSports has to go in terms of ensuring that women feel welcome and essentially accepted within this world, it would be wrong to let something like that overshadow the developments and progress which are being made.

For example, DoteSports.com has reported how the Troy Ladies of League eSports team from Troy High School in California are set to become the first all-female high school competitive gaming side in the US when they begin competing in the North America Scholastic eSports Federation tournament in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, there are a growing number of women involved in high-profile positions in eSports behind the scenes, such as Blizzard’s associate eSports product manager Nancy Chou. Finally, there was exciting news related to Fortnite at the end of last year, with Gen. G announcing the launch of an all-female team and signing up stars such as Tina ‘Tinaraes’ Perez and Madison ‘Maddiesuun’ Mann.

The time is now

All of this highlights that while women players are still battling for recognition and may face challenges in the world of eSports, there are positive signs that they are finally on the cusp of breaking through.

While it once may have been seen as a male-dominated area, it will be exciting to see how female players can compete with and become the best across the months and years ahead.

MORE: The Overwatch League 2019 season kicks off with a huge grudge match and surprising results