When you think of sports, some of the first ones to come to mind are likely baseball, football, and basketball. More than likely, you’d furrow your brow in puzzlement if you were told that playing video games is considered a sport; eSports, in fact. Because of their competitive nature, video games have joined the conversation regarding sports, and the queer community has openly joined the ranks of this form of competition, just as we have more traditional athletics. And just like with traditional athletics, there are plenty of hurdles for us to overcome in the virtual realm.
You may not have heard of Dominique McLean, more commonly known as SonicFox, but he’s setting the world of eSports on fire. Along with winning four Evolution Championship Series events and being recognized as 2018’s The Game Awards’ Esports Player of the Year, McLean is Black, openly gay, and a furry. McLean in unique in the eSports realm and gaming community because of his transparency, often seen wearing a fursuit during competitions. To add another distinction to his considerable professional resume, McLean is also the highest-paid fighting game eSports player, scooping up more than $500,000 in earnings.
While McLean is most certainly a notable figure in the eSports, gaming, and queer community, his story isn’t a common one when it comes to queer people in eSports. Austin Wilmont is another openly gay eSports player. In 2018, Wilmont was on the receiving end of a homophobic comment by another player, one who was fined and suspended. While trash talking is rampant in any sport, it can be especially toxic in online gaming. This just lends further evidence to that fact that while we’ve come a long way in regards to LGBTQ rights, there’s still a lot of ground to cover, areas we may not even be aware needs our attention and diligence.
In 2015, a Philippines eSports league created a ruling to limit the number of transgender and gay participants in all-female tournaments. Specifically, the league ruled that only one “gay/transgendered woman” was allowed to participate in each individual tournament day. It’s important to note that in the Philippines, the term “bakla” refers to men who present as female but may not self-identify as female. There was speculation that the ruling was created to block male competitors from identifying as “bakla” to compete. That said, the eSports league never clarified whether this was the case. Instead, the league threw out the ruling and released a statement, saying “any player who self-identifies as female will be allowed to participate. We sincerely apologize for any offense we caused to the LGBTQ and gaming communities.”
Many of us desire an escape from the real world, and video games go a long way in providing us with a chance to step away from reality and immerse ourselves in a realm of fantasy. Combine that with the camaraderie and teamwork often found in online gaming and eSports teams, and our community has a great alternative. But is there any representation to be seen in the games queer people love playing so much?
Overwatch, one of the most popular games amongst LGBTQ players, has plenty to offer in terms of queer characters. The speedster Tracer has been confirmed to identify as a lesbian. There’s speculation that the androgynous geneticist Moira is either non-binary or trans (nothing has been confirmed nor denied). Even the Mortal Kombat series is doing its part to include non-heterosexual characters. Kung Jin, an archer in Mortal Kombat X, was confirmed by creator and story director Dominic Cianciolo to be gay. There are plenty of bisexual, lesbian, gay, and trans characters in the Dragon Age series, and even Grand Theft Auto, a video game series noted as being the most controversial in history, has several queer characters. Video game developers are starting to make more of an effort to create games that reflect not only the real world but their player base as well, giving us more nuanced gaming experiences that go well beyond the heterosexual white male main character.
No matter how the public feels regarding the validity of eSports as genuine sports, its impact on the queer community both in terms of video game character diversity and eSports players cannot be denied or overlooked. As the virtual realm continues to grow exponentially, there’s hope more progressive strides will be made in terms of LGBTQ representation in games. As long as the gaming industry holds onto the impression that our community has a massive disposable income to spend, they may grind to gain experience points and unlock the LGBTQ achievement, earning themselves a platinum rainbow trophy.