YOU WAIT, rifle in hand. An enemy appears. You kill him, and whoop for joy. Welcome to VALORANT, a popular video game that some people play professionally. This year the VALORANT Champions Tour, a series of contests that ends next month, will offer $1m in total prize money. Eighty players are competing; all are men.
Some 42% of gamers who watch e-sports (at least occasionally) are female, and women often commentate on tournaments. But of the 300 highest-earning e-sports players, not one is a woman. Why so few women make it to the top is poorly understood. E-sports do not require physical strength. But they do require dedication, and the pool of avid female gamers is smaller than the pool of males.
It may be that girls are on average less keen than boys on video games, or have better things to do. Certainly, young males tend to play such games for longer hours than their sisters, which irks their parents but is essential if one wishes to turn pro. Some women may find the culture uncongenial: amateur shoot-em-up gamers linked via headsets often shout obscenities at each other and the screen. Some female gamers face hazing.
All-female e-sports tournaments do exist, but are less competitive, less popular and less well rewarded. An all-female VALORANT tournament in September offered €20,000 ($23,000) in prize money.This is not much, but more than the players could have earned elsewhere.
Some in the industry are trying to promote more female participation. G2 Esports, based in Berlin, recently announced its first-ever all-female team. David Beckham’s Guild franchise now includes Guild X, a team of five women. They will enjoy the same tournament preparation as male players, to help them compete at a higher level. Klaudia “Cinnamon” Beczkiewicz, the captain, says: “It’s like we have a family…that believes in us.” Whether that is enough to transform e-sports remains to be seen.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Console sisters”