Jess Lawton and HERO team to tackle toxic hatred in esports


Campaign Asia
22 February 2023
Nikita Mishra

Unfair game: Maybelline highlights toxic hatred faced by female gamers in esports

'Go back to your sink'. 'I’ll fucking talk to you however I want.' These actual insults, quickly followed by invitations for sex, consensual or not, emerge in Maybelline's new awareness campaign, focusing on the very real stomach-churning vitriol faced by female gamers.

"Not a day goes by without a man I don’t know sending a dick picture," said high-profile gamer Sunpi in a 2021 interview to The Independent.

“Nine out of 10 times people online tell me to be in the kitchen," said Jasmine Jada, a 23-year-old full time streamer from Leeds, UK in a 2021 BBC interview.

The abuse gets more disturbing from time to time: “I’ve had people online harassing me saying they’ll murder me and murder my family if I don’t give them attention”.

“Men are always trying to guess what I’m wearing”.

In Jada’s experience the worst games for misogynistic, homophobic and racial slurs are shooter games like Call of Duty, Counter-Strike and Valorant.

There are nearly 494 million female gamers in Asia, that’s 38% of the esports community in the region, witnessing twice a year-on-year surge in growth rate (14.8%) than the overall population (7.8%). Yet, the sexual and sexist abuse which gamers like Sunpi and Jada experience on daily basis are in no way limited to geography or unique in nature. Recent research by Reach3 Insights on 900 female gamers across US, China and Germany reveals the alarming degree of gender-based discrimination females face when gaming. The experiences range from being called names, to mansplaining, sexist jibes like “go, make a sandwich” to the more dangerous rape threats. As a result, the survey finds, 59% of women switch off their voice chat, or (55%) use either non-gendered or male profiles to mask their real identities. 

To shine a light on this glaring issue, Maybelline New York has launched the ‘Through Their Eyes’ campaign in partnership with Reachout, an online youth mental health service in Australia that provides a safe space for young people to chat anonymously and get support.

Campaign Asia-Pacific got an early preview of this powerful social experiment. The campaign with prominent Aussie male gamers and content creators Joel ‘JoelBergs’ Bergs and Drew ‘DrewD0g’ Warne uses deepfake technology to alter their voice and player profiles to sound and look more feminine. Well known female gamers, Amber “PaladinAmber” Wadham and Luna “Luminumn” are watching this experiment from another room, occasionally gasping at the alarming similarities to the discrimination rendered their way.

Within an hour of filming, they are told to “go back to your sink” and to call other players “daddy”. “I’ll fucking talk to you however I want”, blurts one user, some players refuse to interact, or immediately drop out of a multi-gaming session when they talk on chat.

Censored comments are invitations for sex—consensual or not.

“Bitch, shut your mouth,” says one player.

“Oi, sweetbee, shut the (beep) up.”

“Is that a female?” another asks. “I want to (beep) (beep) (beep), baby.”

If that unprovoked harassment left your stomach in knots, it left independent agency Hero’s creative team shocked too. Copywriter Anneliese Sullivan and art director Charlotte Smith ultimately felt it was too important for everyone to not see and went ahead with Maybelline’s original brief of “making a splash in the gaming market”.

“We knew the statistics of discrimination, toxic and offensive behaviour toward female-identifying gamers but we didn’t know the extent of it. We were taken aback ourselves when we witnessed it first-hand at the shoot,” says Sullivan.

“I’ve [seen] on TikTok how females have to switch their microphones off but to deep dive into this world is shocking. I’m not a gamer, but gaming is meant to be therapeutic and an escape from reality; it’s unsettling to know that even in that realm women have to hide their identities,” adds Smith.

The male gamers involved in the shoot were "aware” of the issue, the team tells us, but having such toxicity spewed at them left the “visibly upset by the end of it”.

Shane Geffen, executive creative director at Hero, adds the layers of behavioural hatred extends beyond the female gender. “The more we delved into the gaming world, the more evidence we found that it was a toxic environment for female, trans and non-binary players. Something that was going unchecked.”

The three-minute film launches today across Maybelline's social media channels and will be screened at the brand's live gaming tournament in Australia, the Eyes Up Cup, in March.

The film concludes Joel questioning Amber why she keeps gaming if she’s always met with such abuse. “Because I love [playing].” Amber continues, “It doesn’t have to be a boys’ club or a girls’ club. Gaming is made for everyone and should be experienced by everyone.”

But it has become a boys’ club and if men act like they own the space, it’s largely because they grew up with a video-game industry propagating exactly that.


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