There is a persistent stereotype in multiplayer games that females tend to play support characters. For example, it’s common to hear that women exclusively main the healer Mercy in Overwatch, which was addressed in a popular 2017 Reddit post by a Comparative Cultural Studies student1. A Reddit post about League of Legends demands, “Why do women usually play support?”. And yet another post chronicling the infamous incident where RoX banned five support characters in a match against the all-female team Vaevictis during a professional LCL match2 was locked due to an “overwhelming amount of sexist comments”.
With these examples in mind, as well as numerous pieces of anecdotal and personal evidence, I thought it would be interesting to see if there are correlations between the roles of playable characters based on their gender. While a character’s gender may not match up with the player’s, I think it’s informative to find out if stereotypical gender roles are reinforced in games with a large champion pool.
As a League of Legends player, I decided to do an analysis of all the playable champions with respect to their roles on the battlefield. I’ve put together my findings in this blog post.
Gender Split: There are More Male Champions than Female Champions in League of Legends
As of writing, there are 154 League of Legends playable characters, known as champions. The first thing I did was to break them down by gender, using the information provided on Riot Games’ website about each champion.
Out of the 154 champions, I decided to exclude 4 from my analysis based on the information about their gender. Cho’Gath and Nocturne are referred to as “it” without gender-specific pronouns. Nunu & Willump, the boy and the yeti, while one champion, are two separate entities each referred to as “he”. And finally, Kindred is another combination of two characters, lamb (“she”) and wolf (“he”), collectively referred to as “they”.
This left me with 150 champions who are either “male” or “female”. I actually expected a fairly even split, but it turns out that 94 (61.04%) of the champions are male and 56 (36.36%) are female. This means that female champions comprise only 3/5th of the male ones.
Role Split: Percentage of Single vs. Dual Role Champions is Consistent Across Male and Female Champions
From Riot Games’ website, each champion has a main role, while some also have a secondary role. I wanted to make sure that the role distribution was fairly consistent across genders for the role analysis, and it turns out, it was. For both males and females separately, ~25% had only one role while ~75% had two.
Role Analysis: Distribution in Player Roles Amongst Male and Female Champions
Now for the interesting part. There are six roles assigned to these champions: assassin, fighter, mage, marksman, support and tank. For the figures below, I counted both primary and secondary roles equally for the champions. If all is fair, we’d expect that the percentage of males would be equal to the percentage of females in that given role.
And this actually happens, once, for the role of assassin.
- Total male assassins: 23 (24.47% of all male champions); Total female assassins: 14 (25.00% of all female champions).
But, as expected, the same is not true for all the other roles. We’ll start with the male dominated roles, fighter and tank.
- Total male fighters: 50 (53.19% of all male champions); Total female fighters: 15 (26.79% of all female champions).
- Total male tanks: 34 (36.17% of all male champions); Total female tanks: 7 (12.50% of all female champions).
The female dominated roles are mage, marksman, and of course, support.
- Total male mages: 31 (32.98% of all male champions); Total female mages: 15 (26.79% of all female champions).
- Total male marksmen: 14 (14.89% of all male champions); Total female marksmen: 13 (23.21% of all female champions).
- Total male support: 12 (12.77% of all male champions); Total female support: 21 (37.50% of all female champions).
I expected this distribution, but I was surprised by the magnitude of the differences. In either extreme, there are roughly three times more male tanks, and three times more female supports.
Why Does This Matter?
Doing this analysis was a fun project, but there are also some insights to be gained by the results.
The distribution of champions across these roles reinforces gender norms. Males are seen as bigger, stronger protectors, hence a much higher percentage are tanks. Females are seen as maternal, caring nurturers, so a much higher percentage are supports.
More women are mages and marksmen, who are ranged, while more men are fighters, who are melee. This also reinforces gender roles, with females usually the accurate archers or supporting spellcasters and males the more aggressive combatants. The only equal role was assassin, which doesn’t really have a gendered view.
The distribution of champions also reveals gender stereotypes and inequalities. Whether consciously or subconsciously, the designs that went into these characters were coloured by the developers’ perceptions of gender. As a result, these characters are a reflection of the real-world roles of men and women in society.
It may be true that females play support more often, but it’s hard to say why. What we can see from this analysis is that women are more likely to be pigeonholed into a support role if they play as characters who look like them. There are simply fewer options for women to play other roles if they consciously or subconsciously choose to play as a character they identify with on the basis of gender.
This highlights a catch-22 with video games. The common belief is that females play support, so there are more support characters available to them, which reinforces the belief that females play support. With League of Legends‘ current champion roster, females aren’t encouraged to play male-dominated roles, and the same may be true in reverse.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post discussing the role of female gamers in the League of Legends community. There are many factors that require change on a massive scale, but the more thoughtful release of champions is totally under the control of the team at Riot Games. I hope this analysis not only brings to light the imbalances between gender and role in League of Legends‘ pool of player characters, but also presents a small way we can move the needle towards gender equality in video games for all players.
- Angie. “Why do female gamers tend to play support characters?.” Backlog Crusader, 29 April 2019. Web. 29 January 2021.
- Sacco, Dom. “All-female Russian LoL team Vaevictis Esports lose 52-2 in the LCL: Is this really about giving women a platform or is it just an unfair publicity stunt?” Esports News UK, 17 February 2019. Web. 29 January 2021.