[Opinion] Sex in Esports: Harmless Fun or Creating an Even More Toxic Culture?

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Prior to The International 11 (TI11), no one would have thought that a key talking point during and after the event would be Eva Elfie’s attendance. Well, it was. Images of the Russian adult film star started circulating in the early part of TI11. She was seen and pictured filming videos with players, leading some to speculate that Elfie, whose real name is Yulia Sergeevna Romanova, was a Dota 2 fan.

It turned out that she was an ambassador of 1xBet, an online betting company, and was sponsored a trip to Singapore to create content at TI11 for them. She also modelled jerseys for Tundra Esports, an esports organisation sponsored by 1xBet.

The videos she made, alas, were not about Dota. But about sex. For instance, in one of the videos she interviewed players at the tournament and asked them questions like “Dota 2 or sex?” and “Booty or boobs?” 

The provocative content caused mixed reactions within the Dota and esports community. Some thought it was harmless fun, while others felt it was done in bad taste. 

This is a reply to Reddit user, u/ahbab259, who shared his disagreement with Eflie’s TI11 attendance.

In response to Elfie’s attendance, Dota Valkyries, an organisation built to support women in the Dota 2 scene, released a statement on their Twitter.

TLDR; It stated: “We also have a responsibility to address the (organisations) at TI that have or are planning to publish sexualised content to their social media. The objectifying questions included in these interviews are disappointing and embarrassing, especially at such a storied event like The International.”

As a reply to a comment, they also added: “We are more concerned with (organisations) sharing sexual content that further increases the stigma that women equal sex in the esports scene.”

More than skin deep

While Elfie’s appearance may seem innocuous, the fact is that it continues to perpetuate a deep problem in esports and gaming. Women and girls have a torrid time playing games.

There is a deep level of misogyny in the community, one that is buried deep amongst male gamers and rears its head whenever the issue of females playing comes up.

For example, it is common to see comments that lack of skill is the reason why women are few and far between in the esports scene. These are just from one Reddit thread.

There are many reasons why women may not perform as well as male athletes. For instance, there is a lack of access, especially with the gender income disparities. According to independent site Esports Earnings, the list of highest-paid esports players is dominated by men. The highest-paid female, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, only appears at 427. 

Another reason is the systematic bias that males have against women in certain sports. Women who do play and compete struggle with not being taken seriously.

In a Forbes article, Team Liquid member and Fortnite athlete, Alixxa, shared that “One of the most frustrating things is having someone undermine all the hard work, endless hours, and constant sacrifices that (she) made to succeed and be in a position where gaming is (her) career. It’s a constant thing (to hear) ‘she’s only getting viewers because she’s a girl,’ or ‘she’s pretty good… for a girl.’” 

When they do start to play, many women face an immense amount of toxicity. A 2021 survey conducted by Reach3 Insights showed that 77 per cent of women have experienced gender-specific harassment such as name calling, insults, inappropriate sexual messages and judgement while gaming. 59 per cent choose to use non-gendered or male gendered identities online just to avoid that.

With the toxic culture of hostility, sexual harrassment, death and rape threats, it is no wonder there is a lack of female representation in the professional esports scene. Women simply cannot spend the same amount of time gaming and practising their craft as their male counterparts, with such appalling behaviour tainting their joy of gaming.

To put it briefly, the hardcore gamers, whom are all men, think that women have no place in a man’s world. And if women dare to even step in, these same men will not hesitate to show them out the door.

Porn x Esports?

So what does this have to do with a Russian porn star?

I have no issues with Eva Elfie, for what she is doing for a living nor for what she did at TI11. At the end of the day, she is just doing her job. I have huge respect for sex workers who have to put out their bodies to make a living. And who says being a female pornstar means she has to be shunned and avoided by the gaming community? If she loves to game, she is definitely welcomed.

However, I do object to the implications of what she is doing. By portraying the idea that women are primarily objects, with no will, desire or aspirations of their own, the presence of a porn star further exacerbates the issue of women in esports. 

This reddit comment sums it up quite nicely.

The simplest way of thinking about this issue is this: does tennis or football or basketball need porn stars to spice the game up? 

If esports is to be respected as a mainstream activity and bring in a global audience, the leaders in the community must do the opposite of objectifying women. 

Look at what other sports like tennis and motorsport are doing – actively implementing solutions to eradicate discrimination against women. They should find ways to introduce more female representation without taking the shortcut of going low brow and low cut dresses.

Boobs and babes will go only so far, and instead lead to a decline of the community. Instead, let’s take the high road and aim for a global community that embraces everyone regardless of gender, background and sexual orientation. Let esports love and unite, not debase and divide.

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