12 Best Practices for Diversity and Inclusion in Collegiate Esports

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University of Utah Crimson Gaming, 2017

Our researchers at AnyKey produced a white paper about Diversity and Inclusion in Collegiate Esports

We presented the paper, downloadable here, this week at the Collegiate Esports Summit as part of the UCI Esports Research Conference. Co-authored by our Director of Research, Dr. T.L. Taylor, and myself, this white paper outlines some of the fundamental challenges in the collegiate esports space, as well as opportunities and strategies for early intervention.

Ever since we started studying collegiate esports, we have encountered the same questions over and over. Some questions focus on issues around violence, the look of avatars, or even whether or not it makes sense to think about competitive gaming within an athletic framework. Others are concerned about the lack of diversity and trends of harassment seen in esports. College faculty and administrators are invested in supporting the education and quality of student life for all students on their campuses. They are now tasked with figuring out how, if at all, a formally supported esports program might benefit every student who wants to participate. Collegiate esports is necessarily driven by a different set of values than what shapes the professional esports scene.

Our full report contains background on the historical and social context of competitive gaming on campuses. We cover topics that are central to the conversations about how to responsibly support diversity and inclusion in collegiate esports programs, such as ensuring meaningful participation for women, inclusive practices in competition, and equitable access for console game players.

The report builds up to 12 best practices for those looking to set up their own collegiate esports programs to be inclusive and beneficial for the diverse communities of players on campus. We developed these with colleges and universities in mind, but the core lessons could be applied across a variety of competitive gaming scenes.

We recommend that all collegiate esports programs consider the following:

  1. Perform a diversity audit and create a plan for inclusion

Assess your program to better understand who is participating, who is not participating, how students are engaging, and how your program’s activities are being communicated around campus. Talk to students at the fringes (like those who are part of gender or racial minorities) about their experiences and ask what could be done to better support them.

2. Focus on preventative approaches before punitive ones

Tell players and community members what kind of behavior is expected, what behavior is not tolerated, and how everyone can contribute to making your community inclusive. Give them relevant, contextual examples of what this looks like in everyday situations. Preemptively laying this groundwork can go a long way to prevent bad behavior before it happens.

3. Provide a code of conduct and enforce it

A Code of Conduct can serve as a key tool for informing all participants about what values matter most to your organization and what kinds of behavior are acceptable and not acceptable. Adapt one that your team members will read and understand. Create a clear process for participants to give feedback, as well as procedures for how to handle reported violations.

See our Keystone Code for an example of a basic Code of Conduct that can be adapted for use in many gaming communities.

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Keystone Code posted in collegiate esports practice space

4. Develop programs for diverse levels and forms of participation

Varsity esports programs are just one of many forms that esports can take on college campuses. Gaming clubs, inter/intramural leagues, watch parties, etc. all provide alternative ways for students to engage with esports. These alternatives can serve as pipelines into competition, while creating supportive spaces for growth and meaningful participation outside of the intensive varsity experience.

5. Encourage co-ed play

College students play games together socially in their everyday lives, and this often includes men and women playing together. Colleges also have good models for co-ed competition in traditional sports, inter/intramurals being one great example. Co-ed play in lower-stakes gaming environments provides a competitive format that invites women in by design, and builds offers all-important experience to newer players.

6. Establish networks of support

Promote supportive networks for marginalized participants by creating events or spaces where they can connect, play together, talk about their experiences, and offer support. Women, non-binary folks, LGBTQ+ players, people of color, and gamers with disabilities don’t always know where to find other gamers like themselves on campus, but they benefit greatly when they can find others who can validate their experiences and support them while they navigate challenges.

Photo credit: Smash Sisters

7. Use inclusive language and establish non-discriminatory policies

Be as inclusive as possible, and avoid “gender policing” even when running events that are intended to support a particular marginalized group (e.g. women’s esports tournaments). It is possible to simultaneously take people at their word when they identify themselves, while also monitoring for those intending to participate in bad faith.

Read the full report for more, and also check out our white paper about best practices for Gender Inclusive Tournaments.

8. Offer meaningful diverse representation in media broadcasts

Representation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are more likely to feel welcome in a community where they can already see people like them thriving there. When an esports organization has a diverse cast of representatives on their player rosters, in their broadcast talent, and on their marketing materials, they are more accessible to a diverse audience of viewers and participants.

9. Formulate holistic selection criteria for varsity teams

Don’t let k/d ratios, rankings, or win rates dominate your recruitment and try-out processes. The match statistics and performance metrics tracked by in-game systems often don’t spell out important aspects of how a player might be contributing to a team’s success. Communication, team chemistry, attitude, and strategic insight should not be overlooked, and their consideration can result in a more diverse set of skills represented on a team.

10. Invest in moderation infrastructure

Players, viewers, and streamers regularly encounter harassment and disruptive behavior in live stream chats when moderation is absent. These commonly used online community spaces can be made much more inclusive with thoughtful use of the automatic moderation tools. When the resources are available, properly trained human moderators can make a huge improvement in the quality of social engagement in a chat stream.

We wrote a whole white paper on the topic of Live Streaming Moderation!

11. Provide formal training for bystanders and allies

Many esports players and fans simply don’t know how to speak up against toxic behavior in their gaming spaces, or don’t understand how their own practices might be harmful. College campuses already have many resources available for training students how to be responsible bystanders. Adapting this kind of training to online gaming environments can go a long way towards building allies who will hold one another accountable and support marginalized group members.

12. Incentivize and reward good social leadership

Reaching an elite level of skill in an esports game can be a wonderful thing to achieve and to witness, but this is a mode that is only available to a tiny fraction of participants in any given esports space. Recognize the game club leaders and tournament organizers who are having tremendous positive influence over the experiences of other community members, especially those who are actively working to make inclusive gaming spaces on campus.

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UCI Esports, Girls in Gaming summer camp, 2017

Full details about these recommendations can be found in the white paper. And if you are a faculty member or administrator involved in building your campus esports program, we invite you to join our Discord server to meet and talk with others in similar positions. Feel free to drop us a line at hello@anykey.org for an invite!

Written by

Director of Initiatives for AnyKey.org | Cultural anthropologist, researcher, and advocate working towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable world.

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