Esports as a Platform for Positive Empowerment

By Zach Leonsis

If you’ve heard anything about esports lately, you’ve likely heard that it’s a rapidly growing industry with incredible business potential. Something you may not have heard? Esports has just as much potential to be a platform for positive empowerment for women and minorities in the U.S. and beyond.

The esports industry is growing dramatically year over year and it’s captivating a next generation of fan on a worldwide basis. It’s definitely an exciting time for this next-gen live event category, and business performance is quickly catching up to the hype. For example, gaming as a category has officially surpassed home entertainment, box office, music, and television in terms of revenues. Mobile gaming is advancing rapidly, making gaming one of the most accessible categories in the world. The eventual roll out of 5G connectivity and the continued advancements in smartphone battery life are only going to accelerate this mobile game play too. But esports is maturing in more ways than one. And that’s a really good thing.

We take a lot of pride in the fact that our traditional sports teams like the Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, and Go-Go are positive contributors to our community. We have high character players and coaches who recognize that giving back is a privilege and a responsibility. Esports is no different. And as esports grows even bigger and becomes more professionalized, we need to increase our focus on the social impact that esports has on our community. Wizards District Gaming and Caps Gaming are developing programs to do just that, particularly when it comes to empowering female gamers, and we hope to debut that platform later in 2020.

Our endemic esports team, Team Liquid, also understands how important of a platform it’s building when it comes to making a positive impact. The team is a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and we proudly stand by their side in those efforts. As a global leader in the world of esports, Team Liquid gets that empowering minority groups is important.

Esports as a platform for good has nearly unlimited potential. The category extends to hundreds of millions of fans and players across the globe. Unlike traditional sports, esports facilitates game play between casual players that span different nationalities, governments, and world views on a nightly basis. Think about it: connecting global players online is a lot easier than organizing an international game of pick up basketball, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful thing to think about people in the U.S. finding common ground over a shared love of games with players in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and more. It’s just a great medium for understanding that we share a lot in common with our fellow global citizens.

Esports is also inherently a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you were born, what you look like, what gender you identify with, or what God given gifts you may possess – your score is your score and the software doesn’t judge who’s playing. Not everyone grows up to play varsity sports in high school, but that doesn’t mean that students can’t enjoy the opportunity to learn what it means to be a part of a team by playing a competitive esport. There is plenty of research that proves the benefits of participating in team oriented activities for adolescents. Esports can be a great outlet to support that initiative for students who don’t participate in traditional sports. By the way, the overlap that exists between esports fans and students in STEM programs is remarkable. These student athletes are smart, with skill sets that emphasize mathematics, engineering, and quantitative thinking.

I’ve sadly read articles that detail online discrimination. Those stories truly disgust me. While the work is clearly far from over, esports really has come a long way from its infancy however. In 2019, FaZe Clan signed its first female streamer, Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler, a deaf 13 years old professional Fortnite player; Xiaomeng “VKLiooon” Li, a Chinese national, became the first woman to win Hearthstone’s Grandmasters Global Finals; and Arslan “Ash” Siddique, a Muslim Pakistani professional gamer, became EVO ‘19 Tekken Champion. Female and minority gamers are on the rise and that makes sense because, for example, 46% of mobile gaming is played by female players.

I’m incredibly proud of what Brendan Donahue and the NBA 2K League launched this past year when they developed their “Women in Gaming” initiative. The NBA 2K League can take credit for being the first NBA led league that is truly co-ed. Last year, Warriors gaming selected the first female player and I think that many people expect that trend to grow as the league approaches season 3 and beyond. Ultimately, I’m encouraged by the progress that this industry is making every day. Change doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in a passive manner. We are excited to leverage the inherent advantages that esports features as a platform for good. Like I said, esports is growing up in more ways than one.