Source: Esports Insider
When I was seven years old, I beat nine military men in the Daytona USA racing video game at my local Dave & Buster's. I can’t think of a prouder moment in my life.
As a mixed Filipino girl in fourth grade, the difference between me and my 6-foot, mostly caucasian, and mostly male competitors was glaring. But, when we raced those pixelated tracks, we were equal.
As I was racing that day, a crowd gathered behind us. I was too short to be seen over the racing cabinet’s plastic and vinyl chair. As I proceeded to overtake driver after driver, I remember a woman leaning over my chair.
“Oh my god, it’s a little girl!” she exclaimed.
Esports are inherent vehicles for diversity and inclusion, particularly when introduced at an early age. Esports are one of the few competitive avenues where all genders and physical body compositions can play together. For young esports players, playing with mixed genders, ages, and nationalities (in-person or in virtual competitions) creates values of inclusivity, empathy, and global citizenship.
As esports continues to grow as an industry, this innate feature of diversity and inclusion must be celebrated (and celebrated loudly). Now is the optimum time to contribute diverse stories and voices to games.
My experiences as a young female gamer didn’t stop at Dave & Buster’s. Esports shaped my identity for years to come. And I think my identity helped shape my local community of esports, too.
Esports shape diverse identities
I started playing video games when I was four years old. Before there were esport arenas and sponsors, there were arcades. Noting that I was too lanky and uncoordinated for soccer or tennis, my mom realized my skill lay in competitive video game races.
The arcades around town hosted small local competitions that I played in. When playing online finally hit, I was approaching middle school and high school age. There, I continued to thrive in a community that respected my skill before judging my age and gender., If my school also had esports teams or leagues, I would have taken even bigger strides in my development. My path toward, a career in games could have been fortified.
I felt like I belonged to video games, and they belonged to me. Playing competitively only enhanced that sense of content belonging. The competitions gave me assured and assertive confidence that made me a better collaborator in school.
The greatest benefit to playing esports as a child is it’s ability to show that being a competitor is your identity, not a result of your identity - your competitive success is based on your effort as a physically diverse team, not based on your gender or your size alone.
Esports needs diversity at the forefront
Where esports made me confident as a child, it made me unsure as an adult. As esports began growing during my college years, it was rare to see teams comprised of people that looked like me, had a similar story to mine, or even held similar lifestyle preferences or socioeconomic statuses as me.
I began to feel disjointed from the gaming community that raised me.
The first “household name” gamer, Ninja, for example, is a caucasian male (not too much unlike the men I played with at Dave and Buster’s). While his success is admirable (even crossing into new mediums, such as ,movies), it was hard to watch the industry that gave me so much of my identity not represent me.
When women are highlighted in esports, it is sometimes lauded with praise such as, “Look at this all-female team!” Statements like these are said with the same emphasis and surprise of that woman leaning over my chair at Dave and Buster’s.
It is easy to fixate on “why are esports not diverse in their representation?” Is it because of the game design? Is it because of who works in video games? Is it because girls and other ethnicities, genders, identities, or abilities don’t play enough?
There is no one answer, but there are concrete solutions. And, thankfully, these solutions are already in action across ,teams and ,developers. The shock about diverse identities playing games is waning. Everyone should keep playing esports and feel as welcomed as I did when I was a child. The kids who are supported as players today become the developers and business leaders of the future.
As parents and educators, it is our job to encourage anyone to play a video game competitively.
At the school level, you’ll most likely have a mix of identities already on your teams. Highlight their stories and have students document their journeys in gaming. More students will feel comfortable joining where they know diverse student voice is valued.
At the parent level, embrace who your child is and what they want to do. Even if you don’t see many gamers that look like your family, seek them. Researching stories of diverse student esports athletes can help demystify the mainstream persona of an esports player.
Seeking ways to learn about integrating esports on your campus? Check out our, school’s page to see how we support accessible esports leagues.