According to a report by ESPN, an all-women's college in Missouri, USA, called Stephen's College (made up of a university and two private colleges), is launching an esports program, and is the first women's college to offer such a scholarship in competitive gaming.
The idea was proposed 16 months ago by Stephens College president Dianne Lynch and her colleagues, and now the college hopes to field an Overwatch team this autumn to complete in the Tespa series, a collegiate esports competition. Overwatch was chosen specifically because it aligned with the college's own vision, especially in regards to diversity and inclusiveness.
"Our mission is to ensure that women can succeed and can make choices about anything they do in any environment and in any profession," Lynch said. "That's our mission. So why would we not do it in esports?"
"We always consider ourselves early adopters, or a kayak in the water, as I would say, rather than an ocean liner," she added. "We have the capacity and the appetite for doing something new that allows us to say, 'Let's try this.' Let's see if we can provide an environment where women have an opportunity to, in some ways, break barriers."
According to the ESPN report, the past 16 months of preparation have involved the college gathering resources in order to place esports at the same level of importance as traditional sports. As a result, now players will receive partial scholarships and all the same benefits as the other athletic programs.
As well as a starting team of Overwatch players, Lynch would also like a bench of six other players. As for where this team will be, they'll be in the information technology department for now, as there's no specific infrastructure for esports just yet.
"This is just an extension of what it means to be an athlete," Lynch explained. "Athletics has certain characteristics and certain qualities that enrich an athlete's life. There are multiple kinds of athletics, and this is just a new kind.
"It's different, and it looks different, and it feels different, but it is, as you know, one of the most rapidly growing industries and athletic events in the world."
"Our hope is that we will be able to create a culture on campus where the only people in the room who are gaming are women, so you have this dynamic that eliminates that other, sort of negative culture out of their immediate space."
"Stephens, specifically, is really unique, particularly in the interest the university has in the team," Tespa co-founder Adam Rosen said. "I think the team, hopefully, will be role models for others. Having a team like Stephens involved, I think will be an inspiration for students [...] They're all taking it so seriously and making all the right moves."
Through this move into esports, Lynch hopes that Stephen's College can also make an impact on the sexism in gaming as a whole too. Do you think this is one of the best ways to do that?