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Intel and ESL Aim for More Women in eSports

Intel and ESL are promoting women in eSports through new AnyKey diversity program.Intel and ESL are promoting women in eSports through new AnyKey diversity program.
Intel and ESL are promoting women in eSports through new AnyKey diversity program.Helena Kristiansson

Ahead of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) finals in Katowice, Poland, March 4-6, Intel and ESL have launched a new AnyKey diversity initiative to attract underrepresented members of competitive communities, such as women, LGBTQ participants, and people of color.

Jesse Sell, senior manager of pro gaming, business and strategy at ESL, says AnyKey initiatives are already underway with several new elements on display at Extreme Masters Katowice.

“We’re looking to broach a subject that most shy away from,” Sell says. “It’s a daunting road that lies ahead, but we have a fantastic team on board and we’re confident we can make a difference.”

AnyKey consists of two teams: The first conducts research on initiative-related topics, while the second focuses on implementing practical solutions. Headed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor T.L. Taylor, the research team assembles and establishes discussion opportunities such as the “Women in Esports” panel and industry workshop with industry experts, and fields audience studies and more at events such as the Intel Extreme Masters San Jose, from which white papers are published.

The development team, headed by Morgan Romine, co-founder of Ubisoft’s female gaming organization Frag Dolls, then takes these findings and seeks to develop strategies and practical solutions to tackle identified problem zones.

Intel Challenge Katowice, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament for women, is one diversity initiative supported through AnyKey. The tournament takes place at eSports’ largest and most-watched event, Intel Extreme Masters Katowice, which had over 100,000 live attendees last year.

The event in Poland will also debut the first AnyKey lounge, which Sell says will be a welcoming space for conversation, information exchange, and networking. The AnyKey Code of Conduct will be presented for the first time in the lounge, and represents an inclusion policy for eSports events and online broadcasts to formally address issues surrounding harassment.

The global audience for professional video gaming is huge. Newzoo estimates 131 million eSports enthusiasts follow games and events regularly, and another 125 million occasional viewers tune in mainly for the big international events. Emma MacDonald, director of marketing at Newzoo, globally, estimates 69% and 66% of enthusiasts and occasional viewers are male, respectively.

Stephanie Llamas, director of research and consumer insights at SuperData Research, says the U.S. viewership of eSports gender distribution is 27% women versus 73% men.

“In video games in general, women have been able to play and feel comfortable playing games by seeing other women playing and accepted into the community,” Llamas says. “AnyKey is a way for eSports to do the same, and allow women to see that if they do join the community, they won’t be made to feel like outsiders.”

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“The key is not to segment them out,” Llamas says. “If women have their own competitions and are a subset of eSports, it’s not going to make a huge difference. They need to be integrated into eSports.”

Llamas points to the WNBA and NBA as an example of how separating women from sports doesn’t work in terms of attracting a larger female fan base.