Saturday, 18 October 2014

[HS] Seatstory Cheerleaders Tarnish the Event

One of the first big flashy Hearthstone tournaments ever held was the ESGN Fight Night series first held in January 2014. It was run like a big-budget TV show, with a colourful studio set up, interviews, animated player profiles and, most controversially, boxing style "card girls" who would saunter across the stage at the start of each match with the "Game Number".

The girls were an effort on the part of the organisers to inject a flashy sports-style professionalism to the broadcast, but what it ended up being was an embarrassing mess. Viewers and players broadly criticised the decision. Dressed as "sexy schoolgirls" (a still relatively unnerving, though not uncommon trope) aside from the actual gameplay, the girls were the element of the broadcasts which attracted the most attention.

The whole debacle was not helped at all in that there was not a single female player in the whole event. I don't believe that is unheard of - whatever stats you believe about the percentage of gamers who are female, it can't be argued that they are relatively underrepresented in pro-gaming. During and after the event, criticism ranged from "they don't add anything to the show" through "they didn't even speak to the players" and up to "its pretty much straight up exploitation". 
I was a little disappointed when a number of the players, talking on the popular "Turn 2" podcast after the event, did not seem to recognise the sexism argument and as Wunder (at Liquidhearth) recognises:

"It doesn’t help that Ek0p, one of the members of Dogehouse, said on Turn 2 that you should consider them “decorations or something, to make the show prettier”. Now, he goes on to say that not all women are decorations but that was the purpose of those two girls’ existence."

Wunder goes on to note that though the girls were only a very small part of the show, if that was the case, then why include them at all? Why alienate such a large section of the Hearthstone community? It's only anecdotal evidence, but Hearthstone does seem to have a large proportion of the playerbase who are female (perhaps more-so than other games) - so why risk it? Its simply the most blatant form of objectification, the girls existed simply as an attractive sign-holder, nothing more.

It didn't even achieve the purpose of making the event seem professional and sexy - all the players looked awkward and uncomfortable. It would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been if the sign-holders were muscular gentlemen in hot pants and crop-tops. Perhaps the male members of the community who defended the girls' inclusion as being "all part of the fun", would re-evaluate their opinion if they were faced with some well-toned man meat in between each round.

Regardless, as good as the gameplay was (and, to be honest, aside from the girls the event was a lot of fun) ESGN eventually ran out of money and had to shut down. But thats another story.

Fast forward to the past few days and the Seatstory Cup. And exact same arguement emerges. Seatstory is a different beast to the Fight Nights. It's a house cup: taking place in a single apartment rather than a sprawling studio. It still feels just as slick, but the ambience is much more laid back and I believe its an event which many of the players were very much looking forward to due to it being a nice social occasion as well as a competitive tournament. 

Unfortunately, Seatstory (and TakeTV on whose Twitch account it is being broadcast) seem to have learned nothing from the debacle of Fight Night - including scantily-clad pom-pom wielding cheerleaders alongside the exclusively male cast of pro-players. 

The exact same arguments as with Fight Night emerge - perhaps the disbelief is even more prominent here as its hard to believe someone would think it appropriate given the ambiance of the event doesn't seem to fit, and the backlash which emerged as a result of the Card Girls at Fight Night. There has been some suggestion that the girls are an ironic nod to the mistakes of Fight Night itself - but I believe that's a bit of a longshot, and even if that is the intention, the effect is still to alienate the same female audience which occurred in January

Its a huge shame and is astoundingly misjudged especially considering that sexism in gaming is just about as hot as a topic can get at the moment. And this all comes on the heels of a smaller event cast by Kripparian and Reckful where they were accused of sexist remarks towards the female players in the event.

Poorly placed as I am (being male) to effectively communicate how crap a decision this was by the organisers. I thought I'd just post a quote by /u/Shavri on Reddit (emphasis added):

"As a girl who watches HS regularly, this was a 10/10 facepalm moment. I thought maybe after the backlash from the signholders on ESGN people in the community might have realized this is pretty cringe-worthy. I understand that I'm in the minority for the e-sports community, but can you at least pretend there might be some women watching. From an advertising standpoint I think it was pretty insulting to the guys watching too---or maybe I'm wrong. inb4 women-hating/jealousy comments"

Viewers, players, casters and event organisers need to recognise that even "jokey" casual sexism is not acceptable. Not only is it unprofessional, but its damaging to the Hearthstone and gaming community at large. It just continues to reproduce the perception of the gaming community as male dominated, chauvanist and unwelcoming to girls.

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