How the University of Roehampton is empowering women in esports

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We find out how the University of Roehampton’s Women in Esports scholarship is preparing students for their dream careers in esports.

In a male-dominated industry with barriers to be broken and growth to be fostered for women, the University of Roehampton is offering support to women with a new scholarship to help them become part of esports’ next generation of industry leaders.

In 2018, the University of Roehampton offered the first UK esports scholarship, providing resources to facilitate growth for many aspiring esports professionals. In 2020, the university revealed the next stage of their esports initiatives: the Women in Esports scholarship, becoming the first university in Europe to have an esports scholarship tailored exclusively to supporting women.

The scholarship offers a range of valuable opportunities including networking and work placements, matching scholarship recipients with industry professionals appropriate to their career goals, to advise students on industry related topics. Recipients also receive professional esports industry training, access to on-site support with the university’s gym, sports massage therapy, and new women's-only weekly esports sessions.

Both students of Criminology and Women in Esports scholarship receivers, Jade Cavanagh and Lily Djahanbakhsh are among some of the students participating in the scholarship, as they forge their paths into professional esports roles.

A competitive player and Admin for Roehampton’s VALORANT team, Djahanbakhsh saw the scholarship as a chance to build a career doing what she loves, “I’ve been playing games for my entire life, I’d like to say I’m pretty good at it. Right now in VALORANT esports, there aren’t really many female competitors aside from Cloud9’s team, but their female roster isn’t in the core tournaments just yet. I feel like becoming a competitive player would be a great way for me to get involved in the space”.

Before the scholarship, Djahanbakhsh was a huge fan of esports and is now using her involvement with the university’s esports society and scholarship to introduce more women to the space, making it a more welcoming environment. Djahanbakhsh was already aiming for a career in esports either as a pro player or as an on-stage host. She feels that the scholarship has given her a boost of encouragement to help her pursue her dream career.

Third year student and Roehampton Student Union Officer Cavanagh has always been a console gamer, and was only recently introduced to the esports community, saying she first encountered the Roehampton Esports Arena after being invited by her flatmates to try out PC gaming. Cavanagh says “From my first time trying that, I realised there weren't really many girls in esports, it was very male-dominated in the arena at the time, so when I learned about the scholarship I thought it was amazing”.

She adds: “I applied on the admin side of things rather than the competitive side where Lily plays, but it’s still all about your skills, your communication, the effort you put in, anyone can play. The scholarship allows women to try esports out and get connected to the industry, which may not be easy alone. I met Lily and many other girls through the scholarship, I’ve connected with ‘Women In Games’ on Discord and met people through that. It’s a valuable opportunity for students to have that network and prove to themselves that they are capable of things like this.”

Cavanagh was originally very certain of her future being in Criminology, but since being introduced to esports, her career options have opened up further, saying, “I’d love to do something behind the scenes in esports leagues, promoting women in esports, and being a voice to help bring more women into the industry.”

Jonas Kontautas, Esports Coordinator for the University of Roehampton, says the main focus of the Roehampton Esports Scholarships, was to bring in top players and people with big aspirations for a career in esports. They were looking for people with relevant esports experience like casting, streaming, and tournament hosting; and also looking for players in the top 1% of their respective esports titles. After receiving a sparse amount of applications from women, Roehampton implemented the Women in Esports scholarship to encourage more women to apply and address the clear lack of gender diversity in esports.

“When we looked at who the students at our esports society were, we realised a disconnect. 20-30% of society members were women, and when we looked at our scholarship applications we realised that only around 1% of them were from women. Hence, we decided to set up a separate scholarship to change that. I can’t say that it 100% addresses it, but I know that we’re doing the most that we can from our end to help bring more women into esports”, says Kontautas.

Djahanbakhsh adds: “With the main esports scholarship being male-dominated, it made me feel as if I couldn’t join. Having a women’s scholarship is great, it’s proven that it’s bringing more women into the esports space already like with Jade joining last September.”

Cavanagh concludes: “The scholarship has made me realise that there are these esports options out there for me. I feel there can be a lack of self-confidence with women in esports because it is so male-dominated and intimidating both in-game and out of game. I think it’s such an amazing opportunity that there’s no reason you shouldn’t just go for it, it will open doors and show that anything is possible.”

What are the next steps for Roehampton’s esports scholarships? Kontautas says “A big focus for us is going to be looking at the first year of scholarship recipients who are going to be graduating and getting them work placement opportunities over the Summer, making sure all of them have the opportunity to explore their dream career path.”

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