Stephens College founds first all women's collegiate esports team

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COLUMBIA - The persistent sound of a clicking mouse or controller has in recent years made its way out of the home and into the world of spectator sports. Electronic sports, better known as esports, is bringing competitive video gaming to progressively larger audiences.

Stephens College is making sure its students are a part of the movement. The college will have the first all women’s collegiate varsity esports team in the nation starting fall 2017. This means women who attend Stephens College can receive a scholarship to play an esport.

The decision to start the program was simple.

“There isn’t any reason that women shouldn’t be competitive in esports, just as they’re competitive at any other sport," President of Stephens College Dianne Lynch said.

Lynch and colleagues prepared a launch plan to give esports players the same partial scholarships and other resources Stephens athletes receive.  

There are a variety of esports games available, ranging from fighting games to first-person shooter games. The college chose a game called Overwatch, a team-based first-person shooter, for its team to play and compete in. 

Lynch said Overwatch is one of the most inclusive and diverse esport games available. Eleven of the playable characters in the game are women. Stephens felt this game aligned with its beliefs as a women's college aimed to provide women the same opportunities as men.

"At Stephens we have always had a tradition of ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men have, regardless of the arena," Lynch said. 

The list of other collegiate varsity esports programs is small, but Southwest Baptist University and Columbia College are on it. 

“We were super excited to hear that not just any other college was jumping on board, but Stephens College right here in our own backyard, was jumping on board with collegiate esports,” Bryan Curtis, director of esports at Columbia College, said.

With its new esports team, Stephens is breaking into the much larger narrative of esports' expansion in recent years.

The professional esports industry consists of a variety of leagues and teams which are sponsored by companies such as Intel. They face off in tournaments, some held in arenas, and some of which are televised nationally.

If spectators are unable to attend a tournament in person, technology keeps them in the loop. Live streams on websites like Twitch and broadcasts - including some on leading sports network ESPN - increases the scope of viewership.The Major Gaming League, for example, is one of the largest esport digital networks capitalizing off of gaming events by broadcasting the eSports Report online.

According to Newzoo’s 2016 Global Esports Market Report, esports was estimated to generate a revenue of $463 million dollars worldwide. North America was also reported to lead in the global esports market.

North America will strengthen its lead in terms of revenues with an anticipated $175 million generated through merchandise, event tickets, sponsorships, online advertising and media rights,” the report stated.

While the U.S. leads in market funding, Asia fuels audience growth. Forty four percent of the esports audience came from the Asia-Pacific region, specifically from China and South Korea.

"South Korea was really the first place to make these players celebrities and provide the stadium viewing experience. South Korea brought in big name sponsors like Samsung and SK Telecom to sponsor players and teams," said Luke Hinojosa, a producer at Yahoo Esports.