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Michigan State Esports seeks to grow and diversify, trying to close the gender gap

Payton Shaffer
Payton Shaffer

Less than 8.2 percent of active gamers are women, according to a study, which leads Michigan State’s popular esports clubs to examine their gender balance.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this report did not accurately state the participation numbers of female students in MSU’s Overwatch Club. There are two women in the Overwatch team.

Michigan State freshman Lynn Wright is the perfect example of breaking the stereotype that video gaming is only for men. She was teased as a teen for being a female in gaming, and now is one of two women in MSU’s competitive Overwatch team.

Wright is not the only female representing Michigan State in esports or the only one to be heckled for her gender in the sport prior to joining the club.

“If you're outside of a club or something that isn't open to everyone, playing a video game solo as a woman is less enticing because of toxic communities sometimes. But if there is a reason, like a scholarship or club, for instance, like I'm in, I think women would be more inclined to join esports, as a result,” said Wright.

MSU is determined to add more women to the team. Being a part of a club has allowed women to feel included in the sport and has provided a safe environment for everyone to play in.

Upon joining the MSU Overwatch club, Wright immediately felt included and has no longer dealt with heckling from teammates or opponents as more women across the country are joining esports.

According to a Sports Litigation Alert article, only 8.2% of gamers are women. The NCAA decided in 2019 that it would not govern esports because of the lack of gender diversity and the violent nature of certain video games.

MSU does not offer scholarships for esports, but the school has provided several clubs to allow the players to compete and represent their school. The Overwatch team does not yet have any sponsors, but receives some support from the Esports Club Association.

“However, there are some prizes that are given to our students if they win their semester’s competition, typically less than $5,000 per student,” said Christensen.

This is where having NCAA backing, esports could provide more opportunities for students competing in the sport just as they support other varsity sports. According to the Sports Litigation Alert article, the NCAA governing esports could provide the opportunity for better regulation in competition, a more inclusive and diverse environment and better overall wellbeing of the students competing.

Payton Shaffer
Payton Shaffer

“I think eSports is definitely a lot more male-dominated at the moment, but I feel like that could definitely change if there were scholarship opportunities available and open to everyone,” said Wright.

If esports were to become a varsity sport across the country, it would allow for the gamers to get scholarships as well as NIL deals, making money off of their name, image and license. This could attract more people to the sport, those watching and those playing, and create an even larger community.

Although the opportunities are endless for esports and gamers if the NCAA decided to control the sport, there would still be challenges. Games in esports are constantly changing, which makes it unique over other varsity sports. New versions of video games are constantly coming out whereas the more traditional sports maintain the same format with minor adjustments here and there.

“A collegiate esports scene needs to be both careful and decisive on what games to support, and be willing to be open to change. Also, unlike sports, esports scenes have always been grassroots first, and a large part of making the collegiate scene more acceptable will be to not cast the community aside for branding and recognition,” said Dylan McCarroll, President of MSU’s Esports Club Association.

Without the NCAA, several other organizations, such as the National Association of Collegiate Esports, have helped grow esports and support gamers across the country with sponsors and regulation of competition.

According to a Washington Post article from August 6, 2020, NACE has more than 170 schools participating and has given out more than $16 million in scholarships for esports.

Although there are challenges, the pros of the NCAA governing esports outweighs the cons. By making esports a varsity sport supported by the NCAA, it would allow for a larger platform for this sport that has created a strong and inclusive community for many, such as Wright and McCarroll.

“The effects of esports being part of the NCAA would be amazing. I think our players are outstanding and deserve much more recognition and support than they currently have. In the end, varsity esports is happening whether the NCAA wants to be involved or not, so I hope they are aware of the great potential of the unique space and are able to get ahead of the game, so to speak,” said McCarroll.

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