The portrayal of female characters is a popular topic on the League of Legends official forums. People are very enthusiastic about their opinions of the League’s female champions, most of whom are drawn to emphasize their sex appeal.
Rather than focus on that, though, I’d like to home in on whether the League is an equal-opportunity workplace. Are women fairly represented in all roles, or is there a gender bias? This week, we’ll look at the various roles that can be played in both gametypes and ask the important question: Are men and women fairly represented?
What is a man?
League of Legends has a huge pool of champions (a hundred even with the addition of Jayce), and many of them defy gender to an extent. While many people include these gender-neutral champions in the male group, I think that’s unfair. Instead, I’m going to exclude these champions from the study.
Blitzcrank is referred to as “he,” but he is a good example of someone who has no real gender. Orianna should probably be considered female despite being a robot, as she is clearly “drawn that way.” Kog’Maw is also considered male, but we don’t know much about how genders work with Void creatures
Malphite, Maokai, Galio, and Nocturne are also not explicitly one gender or the other. We tend to refer to these characters as male, but they are not actually overtly masculine or feminine. Although it is unlikely that Riot will reveal that Nocturne or Galio is actually female (the studio uses masculine pronouns to refer to both), I also think that these champions also don’t carry genders and can be excluded.
Other characters, such as Rammus and Renekton, who are anthromorphic, are explicitly male, just as Anivia is explicitly female despite being a giant bird. Excluding these characters does affect the weighting slightly, as they are all either tanks or bruisers with the exception of Kog’Maw. As we’ll see below, the tank and bruiser categories are fairly one-sided, and adding a couple of characters to the mix won’t really change much.
Additionally, I would like to point out that the League is male-dominated by percentage. Roughly a third of the League’s champions are female, and this will skew the numbers somewhat. So given these numbers, you’d think women would represent about a third of the champions in any given role. As we’ll see, this is not the case.
Winning the game is not a man’s job
The role of carry, or ranged autoattacker, is a necessity in top-level League matches. Even in Dominion, carries are incredibly valuable for cleaning up after the opening bursts of an engagement have occurred. This role is so essential that in a typical game of Summoner’s Rift, if the carry player is considerably better than the enemy team, his team tends to win even if his teammates are considerably worse than the enemy.
This pivotal role is overrepresented by women. While there are more male carries than females, women make up nearly half of the carry options. Additionally, there are more female carries among those frequently played; of the women, only Miss Fortune is underplayed, while most of the male carries see minimal use.
That being said, however, the most frequently used carry is Graves. This is surprising, in the wake of Varus’ ridiculous popularity and Graves’ recent nerfs. Still, the top female carries are not far behind, and combined, they are seen in more matches than the top male choices. When it comes to being a team anchor, women are more often found in the role than men are.
Women nurture better than men
It should really be no surprise that the devs have designed the support roles to be incredibly female-dominated. The only two men who are routinely found in the support role are Taric and Alistar, and of the two, only Alistar is overtly “masculine” (he’s a pretty manly cow!).
This is one area where losing Blitzcrank is a blow for the men, but in my opinion it emphasizes the supposition that supporting is a “woman’s job.” Alistar is chosen mostly to emphasize an aggressive lane, while most of the female supports play a more passive role, supporting the carry in her journey toward victory. I find this kind of unacceptable.
The only human male champion in the support role makes quotes from a 1980s girl’s cartoon. Does this mean that if I want to play a support as a guy, I need to get in touch with my feminine side?
In fact, if women didn’t represent so strongly as carries, I’d definitely be more irritated about the female-dominated support role, both because there are few alternative options and because of the message that sends about the role in general. Also, there are a number of aggressive ladies fielded in the role, such as Leona and Lulu, who can be every bit as active in the lane as Alistar can.
The outdoors is a man’s paradise
The jungler is also a critical role in Summoner’s Rift, although there is no Dominion equivalent. He roams the jungle and clears camps and tries to set up kills on enemies in the lane. It’s a highly stressful job that requires a lot of communication, but a well-played jungler can feed kills to his mage or carry, which can in turn decide the game all on its own.
The jungle is heavily male-dominated. Although Shyvana is one of the current popular junglers and Riven is also considered fairly strong, most of the top jungle picks are male. The actual gameplay of these junglers varies widely, from Maokai, who builds tanky and sets up powerful ganks, to Udyr, who invades the enemy jungle and denies buffs and gold to the enemy.
I really don’t think this is entirely Riot’s fault, as its last attempt to release a female jungler (Sejuani) resulted in a relatively underplayed champion. Additionally, while Lulu is generally played as a mage or support, she actually can clear the jungle reasonably well, and her ganks are quite strong. Still, Lee Sin and Udyr are considered the junglers to beat for a reason: They’re amazing. And even though Lee has had a number of recent nerfs, he still remains the strongest in the game.
Overall, though, male avatars rule the forests, with Shyvana being the only real exception to the rule.
We don’t want to scar such pretty faces
The tank role is somewhat split. It is male-dominated, but it is not so much so that there are no female representatives. Leona is perhaps the perennial representative of tanking among female champions, and she is frequently played in both gametypes. Sejuani is a good example of a strong tank, but she is unfortunately poor as a jungler and sees little use in either gametype. While Irelia is generally built as a bruiser, she can be built as a tank with great results.
But there are quite a few more male tanks than female. Alistar, Amumu, Singed, Rammus, Nasus, and Jarvan are all common sights. However, there is a fair amount of female representation of the tank role, and at the high levels of play, Irelia is a very common pick, built tanky with Wit’s End and other similar items that improve her powerful true damage.
That being said, while it is not the jungling role, tanking is a “man’s job” in the League. There are far more male tanks than females, even if the female ones are played rather frequently.
Put down the bow and pick up the sword
Originally I thought that men dominated the bruiser category, but there are quite a few female representatives there as well. As mentioned above, Irelia and Shyvana lead the pack for the women, and they are very common and highly competitive picks. Riven is also seen frequently in the bruiser role, and her powerful damage and CC make it hard to ignore her. Although she’s often forgotten, Poppy is also an absolute monster if she’s allowed to get to the midgame unmolested; her powerful hammer strikes and ridiculous ultimate make her a true force to be reckoned with. Nidalee has also seen some play as a bruiser, and she typically occupies the same team slot as a bruiser in the solo top lane.
As with tanks, there are far more male representatives than women. However, there are more viable female choices in the bruiser role than there are for tanks. The bruiser role is one of the most common champion archetypes in the game; over a quarter of all available champions can be played as bruisers, but less than a quarter of those are women.
Putting on robes and wizard hats
The mage role is the one most commonly viewed as feminine, outside of the support role. There are a large number of women in the mage role; there are more female mages than there are female carries. However, there are a lot of mages in LoL, which accordingly means there are more men than women.
This should be empowering. There are powerful wizards of both genders, like Ryze and Lux, fighting for the vaunted solo mid slot. There are traditional burst casters, mobile mage assassins, and sustained magic DPS representatives among both men and women.
Unlike support, which is commonly seen as a “girl’s job,” performing the caster role is a job well-represented by both genders. Much as with carrying, the implication is that a woman can do every bit as good a job in mid lane as a man.
So is League of Legends sexist? I definitely think that the League is not an equal-opportunity workplace. There are too few women representing several roles (jungler, bruiser, and tank), and women almost seem to be pressured into the support role. The pure damage-dealing roles are fairly equal, with women having a strong edge in the ranged carry role, but women are definitely behind when it comes to taking hits for the team.
There are a few standouts, such as Leona, Riven, Shyvana, Irelia, and Poppy, who take up the fight for the ladies, but these brave gals are outsiders battling in a decidedly male-oriented world. Hopefully Riot realizes this big disparity and gives us a few more female fighter representatives — especially more ladies who can operate in the jungle.