As esports gains more popularity in the media, it also gains interest in the academic world. Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri is the first all women school to announce a varsity esports program that is supported by scholarships. According to ESPN the program will begin in fall of 2017 and the team will be competing in the Tespa Collegiate series (a tournament that attracted 220 teams last year) for Overwatch. According to Stephens College website Overwatch was selected due to it’s wide variety of strong female characters. Players on the team will receive partial scholarships and have access to the same facilities and resources as the schools’s other varsity groups who compete in the NAIA. “Our mission is to ensure that women can succeed and can make choices about anything they do in any environment and in any profession,” explained Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens College.
Similar programs have also launched at mixed gender universities across the country. Earlier this month, the University of Utah became the first power five school to launch a League of Legends varsity esports program. The University of Pikeville in Kentucky as well as Robert Morris College in Chicago have both launched esports programs as well. Since Stepehens is an all women school, their Overwatch team will be entirely female. They will be the first all female student esports team. All female esports teams do exist, particularly in competitive Counter Strike, although gender segregation is not required in esports. “It’s time for a women’s institution and women’s culture to stand up and say, ‘We can do this, and we expect to be treated with civility, and we expect the competition will be about talent rather than anything else,'” Lynch said. The college is currently recruiting players with hopes to find six starters and six subs. Tryouts for the team will commence this summer.