Although the subjects of diversity in esports and the rise of varsity esports might not seem overtly connected, as with so many subjects in society, there’s actually a significant overlap. One such example is the recent announcement of some exciting news: the establishment of an HBCU Esports League. HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, hold an important and prestigious place in the academic history of the United States, the struggle for equal opportunities and resources for Black communities, and the Civil Rights movement as a whole. Now, with the upcoming launch of their own esports league, HBCU institutions are continuing their legacy of providing opportunities to Black students in higher education.
As of July of this year, Morehouse College is one of the only HBCUs to have an esports team affiliated with Tespa, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, and the Collegiate StarLeague. Organizers Marc Williams and Rod Chappell have established a partnership with Collegiate Starleague to change this.
Williams, a gaming executive and sports business entrepreneur, and Chappell, executive director of the Atlanta-based marketing company HBCU Direct, have known each other for nigh on 20 years. The two began their collaboration after connecting at a gathering of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities back in September, where Williams was giving a speech on HBCUs and esports. He, along with Wim Stocks, the CEO of CSL, had already started laying the groundwork regarding HBCUs and esports three years earlier, and with the forthcoming announcement of this new league, that diligence is starting to pay off.
The new HBCU esports league is set to consist of 16 teams and will begin competing in early 2021. Aside from gaining access to the vast amount of scholarship funds and sponsorship revenue that competitive esports has to offer, this league has a built-in mission designed to holistically educate its participants. The league will function alongside a uniquely developed esports-focused curriculum, complete with career certification and an emphasis on research and development. Beyond merely competing for scholarship money, by participating in the league, HBCU competitors will build and access a pipeline to business in the industry.
Ideally, competitors in the HBCU league will be able to focus their studies so as to equip them to pursue careers in esports, forging an industry in the future with ties to the HBCU network. Student athletes will be able to find their way to the companies invested in esports, potentially being able to take advantage of internship and employment opportunities.
Beyond the league, other giants within the esports industry are starting to notice the potential within the HBCU network. Earlier this month, streaming juggernaut Twitch launched a collaboration with Cxmmunity—a Black owned marketing firm based in Atlanta—to create specific HBCU esports content. Twitch’s pre-existing Twitch Student program, which was designed to promote educational esports programs, is now focusing its efforts on HBCUs by showcasing streams of the teams from schools such as Morehouse and Johnson C. Smith.
All in all, these announcements are serving to address issues of diversity both in terms of visibility of pro gamers of color and in terms of game creators. Varsity collegiate players should have more opportunities to break into the pro gaming market, and the leagues’ focus on education and career development will enable more Black creators to break into the gaming industry. This new HBCU esports league represents an exciting development all-around.