With the unprecedented popularity seen by gaming titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends, esports have been in the limelight like never before. Competitive gaming is no longer a fringe experience, reserved for a small, specific demographic. Esports appeal to an increasingly varied demographic, and that’s produced the first all-girl varsity esports team at Hathaway Brown (HB) in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Teacher and head coach, James Collins, formed the esports team at the all-girls private school. Collins is a transgender educator who spent time in the US Department of Education during the final term of the Obama administration. On the surface esports may seem irrelevant when it comes to the department of education, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“During my time in the Obama administration, we began to notice the impact that esports was having on educational institutions,” Collins said to Parentology. “Scholarships, staffing, capital investments, and student admissions were all being affected by the activities and culture of competitive video gaming.”
Some high schools have already formed varsity esports teams, but this is the first all-girl esports team. And when colleges and universities across the US are boasting clubs dedicated to esports as well as including esports performance in the criteria for scholarships and admissions, educators have to take notice.
During Collins’ time with the Department of Education, they noticed something that many members within the gaming ecosystem have known to be true for many years; the gaming industry is a male-dominated field. “There is a lack of gender and other forms of diversity in esports, and that has equity and college access implications.” This lack of representation was one of the driving forces for the formation of the program.
The numbers show that almost half of the nation’s gamers are women, so that concept that ladies just don’t play games is, as Collins so eloquently put it, “A myth.” They continue, “Pro esports has long minimized the value of games that women play, and we’re hoping to change some of that.”
Collins knew that the young women of gaming existed, but the question remained, “Where are the girl gamers?”
Collins describes the first attempt at forming the esports program as bumpy and generating little interest. The gamechanger (pun intended) for the esports program at HB was quite literally changing the games.
“We decided to change the games and immediately saw significant student interest and a full roster of esports players,” explains Collins. The spirit of competition is not predicated upon gender or diversity. Anyone can be a competitor, but the drive to competition will not exist without captivating the players with engaging games that pique their interests.
Not only has developing this program served to give the girl gamers a voice at the school, but Hathaway Brown understands the potential boon that esports can be to an institution’s entire student population. Collins knows that “well-designed esports programs can bring students of different backgrounds together, build school spirit, and help them learn core soft skills like perseverance, teamwork, and leadership.”
And why should parents be excited for their kids’ involvement in esports on campus?
“Parents can look to the positive social-emotional effects that games have as just one way that esports can benefit students,” they explain. “The most important thing is that [kids] find a place where they can feel supported and make friends,” says Collins. “That sense of belonging supersedes the drive to compete.”
Female esports athletes have many of the same hurdles before them as female athletes in any other sport. Fortunately, the way has been paved by women’s major league sports; the precedent of success has been set. These young athletes also have supporters like James Collins, who believe in them. As long as there are educators who are working to correct the disparity in gender representation and foster positive community within the esports scene, parents, competitors, and fans should be excited for the next generation of esports athletes.