eSports Organization Changes Policies After Backlash Over Barring Women from Hearthstone Tournament

[UPDATE] IeSF changes controversial policies, will now offer "open for all" events alongside events only for women.

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[UPDATE 2] The IeSF has formally reversed its controversial gender-specific policies. The organization released a statement explaining the news on its website.

"On 2nd of July, 2014, the IeSF's policy about gender division, which separates the female division and the male division, has been brought into question. The IeSF has listened to the gaming community and has carefully considered their opinions. Upon hearing these concerns, the IeSF convoked an emergency session of the IeSF Board to respond," the group said.

"As a result, IeSF shall have two event categories: 'Open for All' events and events that are reserved for women. The events which were initially set aside as the male division will now be open to all genders, and the events which were initially set as the female division will remain as they were."

"The IeSF Board addressed its reason for maintaining events for women, citing the importance of providing female gamers with ample opportunities to compete in eSports--currently a male-dominated industry. Female gamers make up half of the world's gaming population, but only a small percentage of eSports competitors are women. The IeSF's female-only competitions aim to bring more diversity to competitive play by improving the representation of women at these events. Without efforts to improve representation, e-Sports can't achieve true gender equality."

[UPDATE 1] Blizzard Entertainment has issued a statement on the matter, saying it has spoken with the IeSF and they now expect that all players--regardless of gender--should be able to take part in the tournament.

"One of our goals with eSports is to ensure that there's a vibrant and also inclusive community around our games," a Blizzard representative said. "We do not allow the use of our games in tournaments that do not support this, and are working with our partners to ensure they share the same goal. To that end, we've separately been in contact with IeSF and understand that they've updated their rules to make it clear that their Hearthstone tournament will be open to all players."

The original story is below.

One upcoming competitive gaming tournament is barring women from participating in competition for Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, drawing no small amount of controversy over the announcement. The drama originates from a Reddit user, who yesterday posted an email from a Finnish gaming organization called Assembly that puts together qualifiers for the South Korea-based International eSports Federation (IeSF). In this email, Assembly wrote that participation in an upcoming qualifier event is "open only to Finnish male players." This is reiterated on the tournament's official website.

This triggered backlash, and Assembly organizer Markus Koskivirta said in a statement to PC Gamer: "In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation's (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things."

IeSF has for more than a year now held its competitions by gender. This year, men can play Dota 2, StarCraft II, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Meanwhile, the women's roster includes games like StarCraft II and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. The group says, "The decision to divide male and female competitions was made in accordance with international sports authorities, as part of our effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sports."

"Our top priority is to promote eSports in the best ways we can. We believe that listening is important, and we're now collecting your opinions from the social media, and we will update soon" -- IeSF representative

Since Assembly's tournament is only a qualifier for the larger IeSF championship, it makes sense that Assembly would need to abide by the rules set forth by the IeSF. However, Koskivirta went on to say that the Finnish eSports Federation, which organizes the Assembly qualifier, isn't taking the news sitting down.

"We would also like to point out that the Finnish eSports Federation is currently lobbying for the equal rights of male and female players in the IeSF tournaments," he said. "This is an ongoing process and we of course welcome any support in this matter.".

On IeSF's Facebook page, the group provided a statement of its own, which you can read in full below.

"To all our fans and eSport enthusiasts, in the last hours we have received lots of feedback from you regarding the IeSF 6th e-Sports World Championship, particularly regarding the male/female tournament division. We want to thank you for your interest in eSports and for sharing your opinions. The eSports community opinion is always important to the IeSF. Our top priority is to promote eSports in the best ways we can. We believe that listening is important, and we're now collecting your opinions from the social media, and we will update soon."

Responding directly to a fan on Facebook, the IeSF went on to say that it is "absorbing" feedback about the matter.

"The IeSF believes in a world where there is no discrimination against anyone," the representative said. "We believe that everyone from everywhere can participate in eSports, doesn't matter where they're from, what their gender is or what they believe in. Based on this, we will keep absorbing your feedback and other's. We do strive to create the best e-Sports event we can, and we'll work hard to make sure everyone can enjoy it."

We have reached out to a Blizzard Entertainment representative for comment, but have not heard back.

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