There are lots of negative stories about how women and nonbinary people in esports are treated. From barriers to entry to harassment online, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the issues. But at Champlain College in Vermont, which recently added varsity esports teams in VALORANT and Rocket League, a group of women and nonbinary people have come together to positively support each other in the world of esports.
At Champlain College the name of the game is esports for everyone. I sat down with college students -- who identify as women and nonbinary about their experiences thus far at Champlain. Overwhelmingly, they gave me a different outlook on Champlain’s approach to esports representation. For them, it’s not just about cracking the industry as esports players but in admin roles too.
Maggie, a game design major and writing minor, has had nothing but positive experiences thus far at Champlain.
“I think my experience has been pretty good. I haven't had a whole lot of issues at all. Everyone's really supportive and nice,” Maggie said.
Maggie’s perspective was one that all of the women and nonbinary students I spoke with at Champlain felt as well. Ivy, a game production major chimed in with their experience and highlighted their intro to Champlain’s esports program.
“I've been a part of the admin team for only like a few months. But I did start getting involved with the organization through trying out for some of the games [and] teams. And that's how I kind of made my way in,” Ivy said.
Ivy making their way into esports not as a player, but on the admin team is important because typically, when people think of esports, they think only of representation via esports players.
Both Maggie and Ivy feel proud of their esports program. So what has made Champlain stand out from other programs? Part of it is that their esports program is student-led, but it’s also because everyone realized that players are just one part of esports.
Creating positive experiences in esports beyond just for players will only encourage more people to join the industry. Maggie said she’s “grateful that [Champlain has] a lot of opportunities for people who maybe aren't very good at games, but want to be a part of esports anyway.” This, she says, removes the stigma around the idea you have to be a pro player to join.
Photo credit: Champlain College
Although the program is student-led, the program has professional support. Champlain’s esports director Christian Konzcal has experience with esports programs on an academic level, and the students are happy because there’s someone in place to steer the program. Konzcal echoed Maggie’s sentiment that there is more to esports than playing games. Konzcal suggests it’s about shifting people’s mindsets, but also understanding the importance of building some groundwork.
“Esports has been very difficult to get into because the groundwork isn't there in the way that it is for traditional sports.” Konzcal said. “There's a lot of that groundwork that we are currently building now. Esport programs and colleges are new. [Champlain] is what, six, seven years now? Oldest football [team]? 100 years. So there's a lot of catching up to be done. There's a lot of weight behind that [esports] that a lot of folks don't really recognize that actually serves the spectrum of competitors.”
Even though there’s been a culture of representation and inclusivity created at Champlain, it’s not lost on anyone on the admin team that they’ll face issues in esports, especially outside of Champlain. Unsurprisingly, some have already faced issues in the industry.
MJ, a shoutcaster, was a competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player and learned to get thick skin and persevere in their day-to-day shoutcasting life.
“I try to psych myself out when people are being rude. You're gonna have men calling you a slur or doing something. And I try to tell myself it's coming from a place of intimidation, that they don't want us in their environment because they know that we can do just as well, if not better,” MJ said.
Photo credit: Champlain College
But it’s not all negativity beyond Champlain’s campus. In fact, one game art major, Andrea, said that despite the industry being male-dominated, there have been strides to make it better for women.
“Personally, I don't need to fear or worry too much about it because of how many steps we are already taking in our society of introducing and normalizing women within games,” Andrea said.
Riot Games’ investment in women’s VALORANT through the Game Changers series of tournaments is a prime example of this.
One way to make sure women and nonbinary people in the industry are safe is through admin roles in HR. This is where students like Michelle come in. Their goal is to “make sure that all my employees are safe, that the environment is safe, and that I’m using my power to make sure everyone's feeling included,” Michelle said.
Utilizing a bottom-up approach with students leading the way, Michelle has been successful right alongside other admins on this team.
Where does Champlain go from here? For now, Champlain’s mission is to continue to “change the stigma and show people that [esports] is a viable option,” Maggie said.
Lead photo credit: Champlain College