Earlier this month, Kim Phan, the Director of Esports at Blizzard Entertainment, delivered the keynote address at the Inven Global Esports Conference, and while the former Warcraft 3 commentator waxed nostalgic about the history of the esports industry early in her speech, her attention quickly shifted to the industry’s future.
Creating a welcoming environment
“[At Blizzard], we recognize that part of what will get us collectively there – to that next level in esports – is to make sure that our programs and our communities that surround them are more welcoming and more inclusive,” began Phan. “The more people that feel like they belong here; the more people who feel safe playing our games; and, the more people who are actively engaging in our communities, the bigger our audience becomes and the bigger esports will grow.”
Phan went on to point out that of the 185 million active gamers in the United States, half are women, and spoke proudly of the sole woman and openly gay man currently competing in the Overwatch League. The gem of Blizzard’s esports franchises came under heavy fire from endemic and non-endemic esports publications early in its lifecycle for its lack of diversity, particularly gender diversity – criticism which did not fall upon deaf ears.
“We are so proud of this progress,” said Phan, referring to the League’s inclusivity, “but it’s only the beginning and there is so much work to be done. At Blizzard, we have launched diversity initiatives across the company to level our collective understanding of and the importance of inclusion.”
As examples of Blizzard’s efforts to bolster diversity and tolerance in the industry, Phan cited the company’s inaugural internal women’s summit, an event which welcomed female Blizzard employees “to come together, to collaborate, to share, to grow, and to learn from one another,” and its involvement in the Fair Play Alliance, a collaborative initiative to foster fair play in gaming. The company’s sponsorship of pro player and broadcast talent media training summits were also mentioned, as was its commitment to creating effective in-game player report systems.
"All of us, no matter where we are and where we fall in the esports ecosystem, have an important role to play in maintaining and improving upon what has taken decades to build."
“We are encouraging our players to take an active role in combating intolerant and abusive behavior in-game via the evolving behavior reporting systems for our games,” Phan explained. Overwatch’s in-game report system underwent a major overhaul in mid-2017. The overhaul included more in-game report options; harsher punishments for repeat offenders; notifications for when action has been taken against an account one has reported; and, more, and has received minor tweaks since.
A call to action
“Ultimately, that collective knowledge alongside our individual effort is what will push esports to the next level. How we do that though is up to all of us. Today I have shared Blizzard’s focus with you, but our lens is just one of many,” concluded Phan.
“We are at a critical inflection point in the lifecycle of esports, and we all need to continue contributing. All of us, no matter where we are and where we fall in the esports ecosystem, have an important role to play in maintaining and improving upon what has taken decades to build. I urge all of you to look introspectively, be self-critical, and be open to criticism.”