Fighting cyberbullying in esports is no one-woman job

stephanie harvey esports

It wasn’t until I started competing that I realized there (weren’t) any women in the competition.

Stephanie Harvey has been playing video games since she was a kid. The now 33-year-old even got into CounterStrike: GO to impress a boy in the hopes he’d take her to their high school prom. He did, she tells me, but virtually ignored her once they got to the dance. 

The professional gamer gets the last laugh, though: not only did she turn out to be a better player than him, she won five world championships and has travelled the world with her quick wit and fast-twitch fingers. “I didn’t feel any different than anyone else,” she says. “I was really lucky, I guess, to make a career out of the passion I’ve had for the last 15 years. It wasn’t until I started competing that I realized there (weren’t) any women in the competition.” Harvey points out only five percent of professional gamers today are women.

Everyone can play a role in combatting online harassment

Girl gamers are almost twice as likely to be bullied in-game than boys. It’s an issue the video game industry is only beginning to address as its annual revenue soon crosses into the billions. But as Harvey points out, bullying is amplified by games and social media, but it isn’t a video game problem, “I really strongly believe it’s a society problem.”

As recently as 2016, 11.5 percent of students between the ages of 12 to 17 admitted to cyberbullying others. As many as one-third of Canadian youth report abuse and 70 percent of British youth say the same.

To combat online harassment, MissHarvey and three of her professional gamer friends founded the inclusive and collaborative Twitch channel, Misscliks, in 2016 to provide a safe space for female gamers and promote women in gaming.

When it comes to helping combat cyberbullying, Harvey says, “It’s so important for their entourage to be there for them as well,” pointing out there’s a role for family and friends to play in supporting gamers. She adds that support for gaming is something parents rarely show, dismissing it as child’s play. “If you have a balanced life, gaming can teach [skills] from multitasking to teamwork to social interactions, hand-brain coordination to logic and math.”

Multiplayer games need to incorporate anti-bullying measures from the start

The industry has a role to play as well. “You’ve seen older games make changes, you see new games with tools implemented directly at the launch but it’s still very minimal,” Harvey says. It feels like the bare minimum. And “the least the industry can do” may not be enough.

There’s big money in esports, where PwC predicts the media rights alone are expected to grow to almost a half-billion USD by 2022. Brands spent $694 million promoting themselves through esports in 2018, up 48 percent from 2017. But the overall compound annual growth rate of video game industry revenue between 2019 and 2023 is expected to rise just 3.3 percent, not much greater than the rate of inflation. If the industry wants to attract more talent and more eyeballs, it has to start taking online harassment seriously.

These companies are now realizing toxicity makes people leave their game.

In-game features like the ability to mute a player or vote to kick them out of the game are just a start. “These companies are now realizing toxicity makes people leave their game, and especially in esports where multiplayer is really dominant, you want players to keep playing your games for years,” says Harvey.

As for how to respond to the trolls? Harvey suggests killing them with kindness: treat the harsh word as a joke you can laugh at yourself. She says it’s been an effective strategy to disarm the bullies who are only looking to get a rise out of you.

Harvey is optimistic that industry, family and a gamer’s “entourage” will successfully beat back cyberbullying.  “I think in a couple years it’s going to make a huge difference (in) all aspects of gaming from making the games… to playing the games.”

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