AP: College women lack esports roster spots, scholarships

A new study from the Associated Press highlights the disparities that exist for women who game, which mirror the gaps on the professional level.
By: | March 15, 2021
Photo courtesy of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation/UCI Esports

Despite the growing number of women who play competitive video games, they are not only being underrepresented on college and university teams, they’re not being given the same financial opportunities as men.

According to a new study recently released by the Associated Press of 27 public higher education institutions, men comprise more than 90% of available roster spots on esports teams, and they also receive more than 88% of scholarships.

This despite the fact that girls and women make up more than 40% of the gamers in the United States.

Grace Collins, the former Hathaway Brown school director who is now chief executive of Liminal Esports told the AP: “It’s tremendously sad and tremendously not surprising. The way that these programs have been built out, the games that they select to play, the esports models that they’re looking at, the people that they are staffing, all are replicating an unequal system.”

The AP said it reached out to 56 of 192 colleges that participate in the National Association of Collegiate Esports for both roster and scholarship data. It said many did not respond to their requests or lacked the information to give to the AP.

The disparity in the numbers likely is not shocking to anyone, male or female, who are involved in esports.

Women have always struggled to gain acceptance in competitive gaming, especially on the pro level, as men dominate global rosters and let women know about it with pervasive, sexist chat remarks. Many of the same barriers exist for women on the collegiate level, though there is a much more watchful eye on those comments. Still, as Collins points out, certain game title selection often favors male competitors and may not draw in women, leading to huge imbalances in rosters and scholarships.

There is also a serious lack of oversight when it comes to how many women are on teams because there is no national watchdog like the NCAA or athletic directors to police it (since esports often falls outside of athletics). It then becomes up to individual colleges and universities and their esports program directors, to ensure balance. Some have been more progressive than others. Some simply look the other way.

Colleges and universities that have esports programs should be wary of the disparities in the numbers. One way to gauge the level of interest and competitiveness is to conduct surveys of women students –what games appeal to them, how many hours per week do they play, do they play competitively.

Esports is also not just about the games – since many campus gamers likely will never rise to the level of riches as elite players – but on the collegiate level can be a pipeline for jobs within the booming industry. Pathways that leverage gaming include fields such as STEM, graphics and web design, storytelling, broadcasting, audio/visual, and marketing. It is imperative to ensure the institution is inclusive in providing those opportunities.

New hires: New England College hired Dr. Josh Staley, a former psychology professor and esports director at Keuka College in New York, as its new director of esports. He started on March 1. Staley has been an online gamer for more than 30 years and has been a contributor to Genji Analytics/Oxygen Esports as well as lead researcher for Gamer Sensei. … Hubert Whan Tong, the former head coach and program director of esports at Illinois College, will be the director of the new esports program at Simpson College in Iowa.

They’re in: Bunker Hill Community College officially launched an esports program. Led by Andrew Rezendes, the program has been competing in the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports during the pandemic, while all other athletic programs were halted … The University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., has announced its foray into esports, with a new gaming space on the way. Led by Steve Wettergren, the program is in the process of recruiting players. … The University of Nebraska at Kearney has joined the National Esports Collegiate Conference, hoping to increase student engagement. The school is already talking about adding an arena, as well.