By Alan Baldwin
ENSTONE, England (Reuters) - Female representation in esports is in a 'terrible state' and attitudes must change for women gamers to feel more welcome, according to Team Vitality co-founder and chief executive Nicolas Maurer.
The Frenchman, whose esports company ranks in the top three in Europe and partners Renault in the Formula One esports pro series, said audiences needed to be educated and gender stereotypes confronted.
No woman driver has competed in a real Formula One race since 1976 and no female gamer has yet featured in the virtual series, whose third season ends at London's Gfinity Arena next week.
Across all esports games on average, according to Maurer, women make up about 20% of the audience while even fewer participate.
"One of the big challenges, and a very interesting area of development for esports, is the number of women being pro, which is close to zero right now," the Frenchman told Reuters at an event to showcase Vitality's partnership with Renault.
"A terrible state, we have to admit."
Vitality, the leading esports outfit in France and among the top three in Europe, also has teams competing in competitions such as League of Legends, Rocket League, Fortnite and Hearthstone.
Maurer said the challenge for "everyone involved in the ecosystem" was how to create the right structure for women to rise through the ranks and become professional.
"There are a lot of women playing video games but they are not climbing because they lack role models, we have a culture where they don't always feel welcome," he said.
Asked about the chances of a female racer taking on the men in Formula One esports, he replied: "We are all waiting for that to happen, but for that to happen we need again to create the right structure."
"We need also to create an environment that is very welcoming for women," he added, suggesting esports academies would help.
"And in three or four years time we see a woman at the top level. That's what I want to see."
Maurer suggested the situation was a consequence of video games originally being designed and marketed with boys in mind, but things were improving.
"It's completely changing and now its way more varied. But still that's where we come from. And also I think we need to educate our audiences that sometimes can be harsh to women," he added.
"When you see women in a mixed team, sometimes if the team is not succeeding people will say 'Ah, it's because of the women.'
"So there is a lot of bias, a lot of things to overcome to make sure women feel welcome in our ecosystem. That's something we are working on actively. We need to get to the point where we have a lot of women there, 50-50."
Global esports revenues are expected to hit $1.1 billion in 2019, up 27% on last year and driven by income from advertising, sponsorship and media rights, according to gaming industry analytics firm Newzoo.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)