In the United States, multi-player video games are becoming big business. The industry is expected to earn over $1 billion in profits this year.
More and more colleges and universities are creating e-sports programs. Some colleges are even offering top players scholarship money.
But most of those scholarships have been going to male players. The situation risks following a path similar to American football. High schools and colleges spend – and earn – a lot of money on the sport.
American football players are almost entirely boys and men. So, males receive almost all of the resources.
But nearly half the people who play video games in the U.S. are girls. So, e-sports have a chance to be different.
To try to change things, a former U.S. Department of Education official has helped an all-girls school launch a varsity e-sports program. The official, J Collins, says the program shows how high schools can appeal to a greater range of gamers. The goal is for different kinds of people to earn e-sports scholarships and other opportunities.
Since leaving the Education Department, Collins has been teaching at Hathaway Brown, an all-girls school near Cleveland, Ohio. Collins compares the path for girls in e-sports to the one facing girls and gender minorities in science, technology, engineering and math -- the subject grouping called STEM.
Research shows many girls begin to avoid STEM-related subjects around middle school. Possible reasons include “lack of role models, toxic culture and generally feeling like they don’t fit in in that world,” Collins said.
Collins helped organize a league for e-sports teams from 10 schools and libraries in the Cleveland area. The players are a mix of students from urban and rural areas, wealthier and poorer families. At least one of the schools is only for girls; as a result, all of the players on the e-sports team are female.
In order to appeal to a wide range of students, the league chose three games for the competitions. One was a sports game called Rocket League. Another was a digital card game called Hearthstone. And a third was an online battle game called Heroes of the Storm.
Collins says game choice is important if schools want to reach more than just male students. For example, Collins did not include League of Legends, which is one of the world’s most popular e-sports games. But none of its top players are women, and its culture has been described as toxic.
Players in Collins’ league have reported liking the games that were chosen.
Ninth grade student Claire Hofstra was among the most passionate players. Collins asked her to find four other girls to complete the school’s Heroes of the Storm team. Heroes of the Storm has a few similarities to League of Legends, a game that girls supposedly do not like. Yet the team’s members enjoyed it so much they continued to play together, even when the season ended.
Some girls say playing e-sports has helped them in other ways. Julianna Reineks was in her first year at Hathaway Brown and lives about an hour away from the school. She says the e-sports team helped her make friends.
Kaila Morris, another freshman, once described herself as “shy.” Over time, she learned to speak up and trust in her abilities. She recently served as a broadcaster during the league’s championship games. And Claire Hofstra overcame the social pressure she felt at her former school to give up gaming.
Having an e-sports team at Hathaway Brown influenced her decision to keep playing. She said, “I definitely felt the pressure, just because I’m a girl. People don’t really take you seriously.”
All three students who spoke to The Associated Press plan to return to the e-sports team next season. They also said they would think about playing e-sports at the college level – especially if they earn a scholarship.
It is a small but hopeful step for J Collins, who is transgender. Collins has at times felt more connected and more distant from other people because of video games.
Maybe the most hopeful result from the first-year e-sports league was that the girls had only one criticism. They said they did not get enough time interacting with students from other schools.
“Games can bring people together. They can just sit down and start playing together. That’s a beautiful thing,” Collins said.
I’m Alice Bryant.
And I’m Jonathan Evans.
The Associated Press reported this story. Kelly Jean Kelly and Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson and George Grow were editors.
Words in This Story
scholarship - n. an amount of money that is given to a student to help pay for the student's education
resource – n. a supply of money, materials and other things that can be used to operate effectively
varsity - n. the main team of a college, school, or club in a particular sport
opportunity - n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done
gender – n. either of the two sexes, male and female
toxic – adj. poisonous or harmful
league – n. a grouping of sports teams which play each other
urban - adj. of or relating to cities and the people who live in them
passionate – adj. showing strong feelings or strong beliefs
transgender – adj. relating to someone whose sense of personal identity and gender has no relationship with their birth sex