Making a positive impact: diversity and inclusion in esports businesses

31 January 2022


(ESI Illustration) Image credit: DotX Talent

The esports industry is a young one. Despite that, it struggles with many of the same issues much older industries face, including where diversity and inclusion sit on the corporate agenda.

To discuss that issue and possible answers, Esports Insider sat down with Mitsouko Anderson and Nick Williams of DotX Talent, the new business venture from Morgan Sports Law, to talk about diversity and inclusivity in the esports industry and the approach their new esports talent management company is taking.

When Anderson, Head of Partnerships at DotX, spoke about diversity and inclusion at ESI London 2021 she noted the importance of ensuring decision-makers in companies are actively involved in efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. “Businesses can set the tone across the industry for the particular areas they work in,” Anderson told Esports Insider.

“Rather than being faceless entities, there is power and potential there for businesses to push forward and make a positive impact: to make values like diversity and inclusion non-negotiables when it comes to interacting with staff and customers.”

It has been proven that diversity in any industry brings commercial benefits. A number of studies from the likes of McKinsey and BCG have shown an increase in revenue and financial returns when staff and management teams are more diverse. Productivity increases and so does innovation.

However, while talk of change is good, it all falls apart if the business itself isn’t delivering on those promises.

The state of the industry

There’s no escaping the truth: esports is an industry that needs to work on being more inclusive and open. Williams, Managing Director of DotX, stated that it is “common knowledge” that the esports industry is overwhelmingly dominated by people from a limited number of racial and gender backgrounds. On a basic level, that means “a vast pool of talent isn’t being utilized to create awesome stuff that we can watch, play, and interact with”.

He added that part of the reason not enough action is being taken is that the commercial incentive for change is lacking. “At the moment it is easy for them [companies] not to take D&I seriously, with minimal impact on their bottom line. Microsoft has recently acquired Activision Blizzard, but kept Bobby Kotick on as CEO, despite it being widely reported that he knew for years about the claims that are now emerging of sexual harassment and rape. Yet, I can absolutely guarantee you that when they next release a title, it’ll sell like hotcakes.”

One of the biggest reasons why the esports industry is the way it is, is because the majority of people who watch and engage with esports are still from privileged groups, Williams continued. The issue is that members of these groups often do not see that they are privileged and there’s no easy way of fixing that. Williams concluded that it’s up to those who have influence in the industry to engage fans on these issues.

Image credit: DotX Talent

D&I is not a package deal

Many companies that talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I) simply “roll them into a package,” said Anderson. This isn’t the right approach, as the topics of D&I are fundamentally different and it’s critical to acknowledge that.

Efforts to talk more about diversity have improved recently across numerous industries, with many companies making it a focal point for them and their hiring practices. “It’s the same with esports,” Anderson asserts, “Yes, there may be a vocal group that doesn’t like the focus on things like diversity, or the frequency at which related topics get discussed (which is, nowadays, a lot) but I don’t think that the majority of the community looks at a business’ values, sees diversity listed, and goes “ugh, no thanks”.”

Of course, just saying you’re a ‘diversity-focused company’ doesn’t do all that much if you don’t act accordingly. “Efforts to be diverse need to be accompanied by entrenched efforts and fundamental beliefs within the business so that it goes beyond doing things for the optics and becomes more sustainable,” Anderson continued.

“Taking a weird food analogy, imagine D&I as part of your regular, balanced 5-a-day to maintain a healthy, functioning body rather than a quick-fix vitamin shot to cure a particular problem. Yes, D&I are separate things, but they also need to work together to be fully effective.”

The team wants to make sure that whoever their clients are, DotX is for them. Next month, when the new website goes live, “you won’t see wall-to-wall pictures of white guys”, Williams teased. “We want anyone, regardless of gender or race, to look at our site and be able to instantly see themselves as a client.”

Image credit: DotX Talent

Keeping your own house in order

To talk about D&I is one thing, and to actually do it is completely different. Williams highlighted the importance of a business keeping its own house in order — putting in place staff policies that will mitigate ingrained disadvantage and promote genuine equality and opportunity.

One important step DotX is taking is to not just set business goals for growth and profit, but for D&I as well. The company has milestone dates in place for the team to review progress towards D&I targets. If the company ever feels they’re not moving forward fast enough, it will “make changes and invest whatever is needed to get us where we want to be”.

“Diversity and inclusion are immensely important to me from a personal perspective,” Anderson said, “but it can be hard to have the opportunity to actually make real change in a company beyond advocating for it where possible and raising awareness on personal platforms.”

“This was something I wanted to change when taking the next step in my career, and part of the reason why joining Morgan Sports Law was immediately attractive: it was clear from the get-go that Morgan Sports Law was a firm believer in diversity and inclusion, and that Nick also cared about it on a personal level and was fully behind the idea of incorporating it into DotX as a core part of how it operated.”

Anderson and Williams agree that stamping out sexism and racism won’t happen overnight; it takes time for a shift in perception to happen — arguably even harder in the esports industry, where the anonymity afforded by the internet can enable bad behaviour.

Hope for the future

Sometimes, it’s ignorance rather than the hatred that causes problematic behaviour; people say terrible things to each other online as a ‘joke’ or meme, even when they wouldn’t dream of doing the same thing in real life.

“By normalizing diversity and inclusion and setting it as the bare minimum of what any company should look to achieve, a much more widespread understanding can be set: that it’s not only wrong to be sexist, or racist, or ableist, or discriminatory in any way, but that it’s actually pretty cringe-y,” Anderson notes. ”And I think the latter might actually be more impactful when it comes to trying to deal with those that sit behind a wall of anonymity and those that do it for laughs.”

There’s hope for the future though. More and more initiatives are taking place, and 2021 saw an increase in the number of female esports leagues and tournaments, which will surely benefit D&I in the industry. Still, the entire esports community has a long way to go, and each and every one of us is responsible for making gaming, in general, a better place for everyone else. Be nice.