This fall, Robert Morris University Illinois gave out 35 scholarships as part of a new program–for gamers. The university was the first to offer scholarships for its dedicated League of Legends team, which is an official part of its athletics department. But, this week another university is following Robert Morris’ example: starting next fall, the University of Pikeville (Kentucky) will be offering scholarships for students interested in joining their newly-minted esports program.
As League of Legends becomes a worldwide phenomenon, it appears as though it (and other MOBAs) is also becoming legitimized in areas where video games have often been marginalized (though I wouldn’t be surprised if this newfound interest in MOBAs is due less to the general acceptance of video games as an accepted extracurricular and more to the ridiculous prize pools that games like League and Dota 2 have). So, what does this mean for female gamers?
42 years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the Education Amendments of 1972 (now known as the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act), a public law that included a section you might have encountered before: Title IX. Title IX states that,
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
As important as this law has been and continues to be, you might be asking yourself what it has to do with video games–a reasonable question. Well, Title IX, though it applies to all educational programs, is most often referred to in relation to athletics. Before 1972, very few schools had equal opportunities for boys and girls to play sports, and Title IX’s passage into law enabled the creation of girls teams and athletic programs across the nation and has increased women’s participation in athletics by large margins.
Title IX works by utilizing a “three-part test“: Does the school allow for equal participation? Does the school provide equal financial assistance? Does the school equally provide for athletic programs (equipment, coaching, etc.). There are two key parts to this test–one is that schools must provide equal opportunities for participation; so, if the school does not have participation opportunities for an underrepresented gender, the school must show that it “fully met the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender.” And no, saying that boys are just more interested does not hold up in court.
The second part is that schools are “required to spend dollars proportional to participation rates.” So, if $50,000 dollars is given out in scholarship funds, and the participation rate of male to female athletes is 60/40, then $30,000 dollars must go to male athletes and $20,000 to female athletes. And here’s where it all ties together. If schools are starting to make MOBAs a part of their athletic programs, as Robert Morris and U Pike have done, and if those programs are in any way federally funded, then MOBA teams will fall under Title IX regulations.
And if MOBA teams start to fall under Title IX regulations, it may be an important step towards the inclusion of women into this male-dominated arena. According to the participation requirement, schools will need to either expand or develop opportunities for female gamers or show that the abilities and interests of female gamers are fully met by the existing programs–and they can’t just say, “Well, girls don’t play esports.”
Also, with the addition of scholarships for MOBA players, as female gamers express interest and are included in collegiate teams scholarship money will be dealt out proportionally to that participation rate–money that could encourage younger girls to pursue their interests in gaming and esports. Since Title IX was passed, there has been a 560% increase in women’s athletic participation, a clear indication that lack of opportunity rather than interest was the cause of underrepresentation. As the Women’s Sports Foundation writes,
Before Title IX, women were told that they were not as interested in law or medicine as men were. But given equal opportunity to pursue these interests, women thrive in these fields. Similarly, given equal athletic opportunities, women will rush to fill them; the remaining discrepancies in sports participation rates are the result of continuing discrimination in access to those opportunities.
Replace “law or medicine” with video games, and “sports” with “esports” and you have an interesting commentary on what the future of collegiate gaming could hold. Now, I’m not saying that women are itching to join in on League of Legends, and are only being held back by the fact that no college will offer them a scholarship–far from it. Lack of interest may play a part in the male domination of esports, and all-male esports athletic programs may, for now, be just fine with the female athletes at colleges and universities. But the legitimization of esports brings with it regulations and federal oversight that could, as more female gamers become interested or those gamers that have been pushed out of the genre are allowed new chances, lead to a shift in the demographics for these kinds of games. And that’s a “could” I’m very interested in.
What do you think? Do you think college scholarships for esports are interesting? Silly? A sign of future times? Let us know in the comments!