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USF Esports Summit speakers talk equity and community in gaming

TAMPA – The fourth annual USF Esports Summit centered on building community — particularly as it relates to gender and race — within the $1 billion dollar esports gaming industry. 

About 75 people attended the one-day event, which was held on Jan. 27 and hosted by the USF Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management program within the Muma College of Business. 

Speakers touched on the racial divide among college esports programs, collegiate intramural clubs, and the video gaming industry.

Julian Fitzgerald, executive director of Cxmmunity, said growing the number of Blacks in esports requires increasing engagement through holding tournaments and finding ways to bring value to sponsors and the gaming community.

“Building that community takes word of mouth,” Fitzgerald said. “It requires you to understand what that community wants and the needs of the players.”

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Fitzgerald co-founded Cxmmunity, an organization that helps increase the number of under-served minority students in esports and the video gaming industry.

“We ultimately want our students to be innovators in their space,” he said. “Intentionality is a key piece but the students are first.”

He pointed out that while 83% of black teens play video games, only 4% of the video gaming industry workforce is Black.

John Cash, the chief development and education officer at Cxmmunity, said it has been an uphill battle to convince leaders at historically black colleges and universities to see the value of esports.

Cash developed, launched, and taught the first Historically Black College and University esports/gaming curriculum and certification program at Johnson C. Smith University in January 2020.

By the fall of 2022, 63 of the 101 HBCUs have some sort of esports program. And there are about 42 universities currently engaged in the HBCU Esports League, he said.

“At least people are opening their eyes to the opportunity,” Cash said.

On the gender front, representatives from HER Galaxy, a Tampa-based grassroots initiative focused on empowering women with esports, talked about ways to expand opportunities and resources for women gamers.

Mike Guttilla, head of business development for Galaxy Racer North America, said they want to hold more community game nights where the esports communities can cross-pollinate.

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In addition, upping the playing field for women gamers means holding women-center tournaments with six-figure prize payouts to stay competitive with male-dominated tournaments. “The gap is massive,” Guttilla said.

And competitive women gamers don’t necessarily come from a video gaming background. They can be part-time players. This month, Galaxy Racer signed professional NASCAR driver Natalie Decker to join its esports team.

“As we build our talent roster, we’re finding easy bridges into other sub-communities,” Guttilla said.

The event also included a panel on collegiate esports teams and a discussion by Janelle Wells, an associate professor in the USF Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management program, about toxicity and sexism in esports.

The summit concluded with the live-action Florida Spring Valorant tournament that was broadcast on Twitch, held in person, and shown on the Muma College of Business atrium’s Richard A. Corbett Digital Wall.

The USF Green team won the League of Legends grand final against the esports club team from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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