The Undefeated recently published an article on March 27th, 2018 titled “Why aren’t more black kids going pro in esports?”. The article attempts to race bait while ignoring simple science and market forces.
The author, Latoya Peterson, attempts to turn the discussion of e-sports into a discussion about racial divides in gaming. The crux of the article is on why Asians and whites are so successful in PC gaming, while blacks and Latinos lag behind in the lesser-form of gaming on home consoles. Peterson writes…
“The PC/console divide has inadvertently become a racial divide, with white and Asian players featured most heavily on the PC side and African-American and Latino players on the other.
“[…] With the levels of investment pouring into esports and the rise of an entirely new field of play, it’s important to ask deeper questions about these dynamics before they codify. Especially if those dynamics have deeper racial implications.”
Petersen spends a good deal of the article asking why we don’t see more African Americans as pro-players in the e-sports circuit, citing an ESPN fan-poll for U.S., citizens that pointed out that 22% of avid fans are African-Americans, and that presumably 12% of avid fans are Asian-American, yet there are more Asian pro-players than African American pro-players.
The article cites a study from Betsy DiSalvo from Georgia tech where she concluded that African American players tended to use fewer cheats and mods and valued “good sportsmanship” while playing on console. The inclusion of this bit snidely insinuates that Asian and white gamers cheat more. And before the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds jump in to claim that the Chinese cheat more in the game, keep in mind that those cheats are distributed by companies making money on the cheat services; it’s less about the game and more about economic exploitation. Hence, you have to have a sound understanding of software engineering and mod creation in order to sell cheat services in the first place.
In a way, it simply points to the fact that more Chinese and white gamers are inclined to pursue software engineering over minorities in America.
In fact, according to The College Board, during the 1990s whites doubled the amount of blacks who earned Bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, while Asians were two and a half times more likely to have degrees in a STEM field than whites.
According to a PEW research study published on January 9th, 2018, the excuse for fewer blacks and Hispanics being in STEM fields was poor education and lack of encouragement.
However, no one has to encourage anyone to play video games, yet blacks and Hispanics still don’t perform as well as Asians and whites in higher-skilled genres like MOBAs and real-time strategy titles.
Peterson attempts to blame a number of factors for this issue, including a lack of publisher support. In the article she states that publishers pump more money into MOBAs and RTS titles like Dota 2 and League of Legends, while games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 have much smaller earning pools. She writes…
“These dramatically different outcomes based on the games you love sets up a pernicious cycle in esports — the players who were drawn to more lucrative games have the chance to continue to compete and to live off their earnings. Players who love games that do not find publisher support and audience support simply will not have the same opportunities for advancement in esports, regardless of how good they are.”
The reality is that it has nothing to do with publisher support and everything to do with market forces. Dota 2 boasts a total ownership number of 121 million installs, according to Steam Spy. On average it peaks at over 770,000 concurrent players, according to Steam Charts.
It’s really basic math here: Blacks only make up 13% of the population, therefore they’re not a driver in the consumer marketplace, especially where an even smaller portion of blacks even play and buy video games.
Publishers are funding the e-sports scene for gamers that have strong audience engagement, like Dota 2. The game can also be ran on meager PCs – in fact, if you can use Facebook you can likely run Dota 2, since all you need is DX9m 4GB of RAM and a dual-core PC. Essentially, anyone with a PC from 2008 or onward should be able to run the game decently enough.
Heck, more than 67% of blacks in America use Facebook, according to a 2015 report from Pew Research. So if they’re capable of running Facebook on their PC, why aren’t they playing Dota 2? Especially since the price of entry is lower (i.e., free) compared to games like Street Fighter V or Tekken 7 or Mortal Kombat X.
Peterson ignores this facet and instead tries to claim that playing on PC is socially prohibitive because of the tongue-in-cheek “PC Master Race” joke. Peterson attempts to push the goal posts by claiming that blacks can’t play on PC due to memes and “racial slurs”…
“There is the long-standing issue of racial slurs as a part of overall toxicity in online gaming communities, which has already claimed the careers of a few pros. There’s the tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really adoption of the “PC Master Race” framework, which becomes more disturbing when you compare the broader demographics of PC gamers and the so-called “console peasants.” There are the dust-ups over the use of Pepe imagery by professional players and the racist applications of the TriHard emote.”
Peterson attempts to explain away the difference between races being drawn to certain genres and competitive elements within e-sports is that the FGC attracts blacks and Hispanics because it’s the closest to the arcade days, where the face-to-face experience offered a lag-free, pure competitive playing atmosphere. But couldn’t the same be said about RTS games and LAN tournaments?
In fact, some gamers believe that RTS and MOBA titles simply appeal to those who value more strategic gameplay from their sessions, as well as seeking a higher level of required intelligence from their interactive entertainment. This line of thought is actually backed up by peer reviewed research.
In a research study by Brian D. Glass, which was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in 2013, it was discovered that playing RTS games can increase your higher cognitive functions, with the research study stating…
“We have shown that training with a sufficient level of simultaneous information and action coordination in a real-time video game leads to the specific enhancement of higher-level cognition along a clear unified component. With the ability to control and quantify specific video game parameters and behavior, we have shown that it is possible to alter cognitive flexibility, a core component with broad influence on the psychological abilities and well-being of an individual.”
Not only do RTS games improve higher cognitive functions, but many gamers believe that you already have to show signs of orthogonal thinking in order to become successful at playing them, with various threads across various gaming forums showing clear consensus that many gamers believe that higher intelligence is required to do well in RTS games, and even more-so for competitive RTS games in the e-sports field.
A post from 2005 on the Game Replays site from user AGMLauncher actually arrived at the conclusion Glass came to, eight years before the research report was published, writing…
“In any case, yes, I believe having a high IQ is what allows people to be good RTS players. IQ is your capacity to learn, to think analytically, and improvise solutions based on past experience (i.e. you can extrapolate and indirect answer to a problem you do not have a direct answer to, simply based on your past experience). A high IQ typically means you’ve got exceptionally good pattern recognition.”
Regardless of what Peterson tries to infer in the piece on The Undefeated, the data seems to show that RTS and MOBA games are favored by higher IQ gamers, and it sustains a feedback loop that high IQ gamers like high IQ games, and therefore these games are populated by those gamers. Essentially, those players are going to rise to the top of the crop during tournament play, and attract like-minded viewers. So long as this loop keeps oscillating in a cycle where higher functioning gamers constantly attempt to improve and get better at games that increase higher cognitive processes, it creates a both an entertaining and lucrative market.
Social justice agitators like Peterson may not like the results, but the competitive nature of the free market has spoken.