Just days after the announcement that eSports were becoming an Olympic event in the 2022 Asian Games, another milestone breakthrough for the fledgling profession has been unveiled. Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri became the first all-women’s school to offer a varsity eSports program, and the program will be arriving in the fall of 2017 fully supported by a scholarship system as well.
According to the Stephens College website, the all-women’s varsity team will be specifically targeting participation and success within Blizzard’s Overwatch leagues, and will be set to compete in the Tespa Collegiate Series as early as next year. While there were many different titles to choose from – and some, like League of Legends, that are currently much more lucrative – Stephens College stated in its release that Overwatch was chosen “because of its diverse and strong female characters”.
The team from Stephens College will, once it is formed, become the first all-female student eSports team in a collegiate setting. While the precedent has been set in professional leagues, as many all-female eSports teams exist in games like Counter-Strike, creating an environment that fosters more all-female teams and involvement in the scene from women is the next step in creating viability for eSports in the future. Eventually, many female gamers who are currently professionals have said in interviews that they would like to see no gender segregation in events and tournaments at all.
Similar varsity eSports programs are beginning to crop up across the United States, although all of them have been at mixed-gender colleges up until this point. Earlier this month, the University of Utah launched its varsity eSports program to the excitement of many aspiring professional gamers, as Utah is a Power Five school that could set the standard for other big universities and colleges on the fence about their participation in eSports development. Earlier, schools such as Chicago’s Robert Morris College and Kentucky’s University of Pikeville also launched eSports scholarship programs.
The Stephens College eSports team will recruit a total of twelve players, who will make up a six-person starting team and a six-person reserve of alternates. Tryouts will commence this summer, but given the rapidity with which eSports has begun to grow, by the time Stephens College’s team is ready to compete, there may be more competition from other educational institutions on the way.