A user on Reddit's Hearthstone community yesterday shared this image—from an announcement page for a Hearthstone qualifier taking place during Finland's Assembly Summer 2014. What made "Karuta's" post notable was a single, highlighted sentence: "The participation is open only to Finnish male players."
That is, to state the obvious, a strange requirement for a Hearthstone tournament; and it makes the qualifier's organisers, the Finnish eSports Federation, seem like childish boys in a treehouse, hanging a "no girls allowed" sign on their front door. Only, the qualifier is for for the IeSF World Championship, and it's this global event that has stipulated the all-male line-up.
"Your information is indeed correct, the tournament is open to Finnish male players only," said Markus "Olodyn" Koskivirta, head admin of the Assembly Summer 2014 Hearthstone IeSF Qualifier, in a statement to PC Gamer. "In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation's (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things."
Koskivirta's argument is that, by allowing women into their qualifier, there's a risk that the winner wouldn't be eligible to enter the IeSF's World Championship final.
The IeSF, or International e-Sports Federation, is a global organisation based in South Korea that is comprised of e-sports associations from across the world. Their stated aim is to promote e-sports as a "true sport". The IeSF's sixth World Championship will take place this November, in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Here's the tournament list, from the organisation's Facebook event page:
Male Competition: Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Hearthstone, Ultra Street Fighter IV
Female Competition: Starcraft 2, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
It's an absurd division. Seemingly it tells us that Ultra Street Fighter IV is for boys, and Tekken Tag Tournament is for girls; that women aren't meant to play Dota 2 or Hearthstone; and that while both men and women can play Starcraft 2, they damn well better not do it together.
Of course, that's not what the IeSF are saying. Their reasoning is far more insidious than that. In a reply to a Facebook comment asking why men and women had been divided, the IeSF responded with the following:
"The decision to divide male and female competitions was made in accordance with international sports authorities, as part of our effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sports."
It's a bizarre statement, attempting to defend a seemingly indefensible decision. E-sports can be recognised as a "legitimate sport" while still staying true to the differences that exist. Hearthstone is not a game that requires any division by gender—to do so is a completely arbitrary decision that smacks of a desperation to be taken seriously.
As for Assembly Summer 2014, Koskivirta told us that all other tournaments were "open to all genders". "We would also like to point out that the Finnish eSports Federation is currently lobbying for the equal rights of male and female players in the IeSF tournaments," he said. "This is an ongoing process and we of course welcome any support in this matter."
We have contacted the IeSF for a statement.
Image source: IeSF.
Update: The original version of the article stated that Assembly Summer 2014 was organised by the Finnish eSports Federation. This is not the case, and has been corrected.
The IeSF have responded to questions about their stance on male-only tournaments on their Facebook page, giving two justifications, quoted below.
"1 - promoting female players. We know that e-Sports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale.
"2 - International standards. IeSF is very close to get e-Sports recognized as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues."
To point one, there isn't a Hearthstone competition for women, who are only allowed to enter StarCraft 2 and Tekken Tag Tournament contests, and segregation has historically proven to be a pretty poor basis for the promotion of equality. To point two, we're unsure to what "international sports regulations" the IeSF are adhering to, and why separating men and women would "get e-Sports recognized as a true sports." The Chess example is odd, because while there is a separate competition for women, women can enter the World Chess Championship and compete against men. Just ask Judit Polgár.
Another update from the IeSF on Facebook, which suggests they're absorbing the feedback.
"In the last hours we have received lots of feedback from your regarding the IeSF 6th e-Sports World Championship, particularly regarding the male/female tournament division.
"We want to thank you for your interest in e-Sports and for sharing your opinions. The e-Sports community opinion is always important to the IeSF.
"Our top priority is to promote e-Sports in the best ways we can. We believe that listening is important, are we're now collecting your opinions from the social media, and we will update soon."