UPDATED: League of Legends tournament restricts LGBT players

A Filipino tournament for female League of Legends players has come under fire after issuing new rules restricting the number of LGBT players allowed per team.

The organisers, Garena eSports – a subsidiary of the country’s internet platform provider and exclusive distributor of LoL in South-East Asia – made light of their new rules today for the female-only Iron Solari league.

Among the rules introduced by Garena’s spokesperson, GG.Sphere, were the stipulation that “a maximum of one (1) Gay/Transgendered [sic] woman” may be allowed per team on each tournament day. The company made their decision to introduce these rules after considering their inclusivity policy, in an attempt to allow more players to join the tournament. Garena reportedly asked for feedback from teams and LGBT members of the LoL community to reach their amendments.

“On the other hand,” the statement reads “for any competitions, we seriously look at ensuring there’s a fair level playing field for all participants. And there are arguments and concerns from other participants who disputes [sic] that Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered Women members may probably have some unfair advantage.”

Garena fails to specify what these advantages may be, leaving speculation open as to how a team with more than one gay or trans woman could unfairly benefit. There is also an element of lost in translation as the Filipino use of Lesbian/Gay often overlaps with the Tagalog terms bakla (crossdressing or transgender women) and tomboy (transgender man).

In keeping with other South-East Asian tournaments that have made similar rules, they are often clumsy attempts to prevent all-female teams from disingenuously recruiting men to play for them. Buying into the problematic assertion that men are better than women. In October last year, the Dota 2 team ‘Team Dolls’ was banned from the Girl Wars tournament for having a player who ‘played like a boy’, as team captain Snowbunnie said in their statement “It’s not clear if event organisers are accusing team Dolls of bringing a boy onto the team, or if the girl in question is simply too good.”

Riot Games issued the following statement via their social media networks to clarify their stance on the issue: “LGBT players are welcome at official LoL tourneys. We’re working with partners to ensure consistency with our values across all regions.” The quick response and unequivocal wording of Riot’s statement goes some way to show the individual nature of Garena’s actions.

As such, Garena’s decision has come under severe criticism as a marker of how out of touch the eSports industry appears to be when it comes to the rights and desires of LGBT players, and women. For a heavily male-dominated scene, there are many valid questions to be asked about why women are segregated into female-only tournaments in the first place, leading to the invasive measures proposed by such rules excluding trans team members in attempts at “preserving the competitive aspect of this tournament”.

Ignoring the suggestion that being gay or trans somehow imbues a competitor with godlike League of Legends micro, dictation of player sexuality is something that would be reprehensible in traditional sports. Though eSports should not look to emulate its physical predecessors, it does in many, unconscious ways. One of which is the arbitrary separation of men and women, something of a ‘necessary evil’ in the current eSports world.

Female-only tournaments are commonly thought of as a way to show a younger generation that there are role models for them in eSports, or as a result of there not being enough female players to field teams in mixed play. The reality is that many talented women are having to enter tournaments teamed with people below their skill level to fill out an all-female roster. On top of that, prevailing attitudes in male-dominated competitive scenes, prevents the sort of inclusivity policies that would allow players of all genders and sexual preferences to play together.

Garena’s rule change in the interest of inclusivity could not be further from the mark, but this is a mistake repeated over and over throughout eSports organisations.Hopefully the open dialogue Garena promises at the end of their announcement results in these grievances being heard. But as an industry that prides itself on being “player-oriented” and “community-led” there are very few answers to be had when eSports companies fail large communities of players of other orientations.

UPDATE 09:39: Garena has rescinded its rule changes after discussions with their partners, Riot Games. They issued the following statement this morning:

“Our initial ruling on LGBT player restrictions within the Iron Solari League has created a lot of good discussion and debate over the past 24 hours. After discussing the ruling with our partners and re-examining our approach, we have decided to remove these restrictions completely. This means that any player who self-identifies as female will be allowed to participate. We sincerely apologize for any offense we caused to the LGBT and gaming communities.

“Our original intent when we put together this tournament was to promote diversity in the competitive gaming community. Hence, we are grateful to our players who have consistently provided their feedback to help us learn and improve as we strive to develop an inclusive gaming environment for all. We’ll also be keeping our promise of having an open dialogue with all parties as we plan this and future events.

“We hope you will tune in to support these awesome teams and players in this upcoming tournament.”

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