EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the February issue of GCU Magazine.
Photos by Ralph Freso
Forget gaming statistics, experience points, ranks and climbing the leaderboards.
Tiana Mitchell, General Manager for Grand Canyon University Esports Women in Gaming, aspires to develop something more — a safe space in which women feel invited into an inclusive, communal gaming environment.
The all-women group meets at Esports Arena biweekly on Wednesdays for community, fun and, of course, gaming. Whether you play on a console, PC or mobile, you’re invited to join the friendly competition.
When Mitchell tried out for GCU’s male-dominated varsity VALORANT League her freshman year, she was the only woman who showed up for tryouts.
“I felt nervous coming into the Esports Lounge, because I didn’t know anybody,” Mitchell said. But that and the lack of women on the team wasn’t enough to dissuade her.
That’s when Director of Esports Operations Jay DeShong saw Mitchell’s potential and plugged her in the scene by connecting her to the Esports staff. She used those connections to create the GCU Esports Women in Gaming league.
“I did not know how to organize an event and never have done anything like this, but since starting, I’ve developed a lot of leadership skills and have done a lot of planning and projects,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot and gained confidence in what I’m doing.”
Mitchell shares the success of the league with Esports Supervisor Marissa Mendivil, who helped carry out her vision.
“It was always last minute and not planned out when doing this by myself. I feel like I didn’t really know what my goal or my purpose was,” Mitchell said. “Ever since Marissa joined me, we came together, figured this out and planned out each event. It helps having a team of supportive people who are backing it up.”
In 2022, women accounted for close to half of gamers in the United States, according to the Entertainment Software Association and other online sources. Of the GCU students who have GCU Esports Arena memberships, approximately 19% are women, Esports program organizers say, though Mitchell and Mendivil share how that’s changing.
“We would only see two women who felt comfortable to come into the Esports Lounge regularly prior to starting Women in Gaming,” Mendivil said. “Since we’ve created this space, a lot more women come in and some even in groups to play — and the confidence is obvious. They finally feel comfortable enough to do that, and that was our goal.
To further solder the bridge between women and gaming culture, the group’s events feature big names in the industry. Celebrity speakers connect to students digitally through online meetings and are displayed on a large television screen.
It all starts with a simple post on social media.
“All I do is send out a tweet inviting guest speakers,” Mendivil said. “Twitter is such a powerful tool when it comes to connecting people. Women want to get behind other women in gaming, so they are quick to support that.”
Students who attend receive insight from women who have trailblazed through gaming culture and created careers as live streamers. Speakers from video gaming companies such as Riot and 100 Thieves and the video game VALORANT have connected with GCU students.
Mendivil and Mitchell hope the speakers will inspire students and show them that women, too, can find success in the world of gaming.
Ever since psychology pre-med student Purimprat Tungkiatpaiboon discovered a GCU Esports Women in Gaming flyer, she has attended every event, eager to gain wisdom from guest speakers. Their words, laced with an overwhelming sense of relatability and encouragement, were more than enough to bring her into the lounge on Wednesdays.
“Hearing from a woman who has climbed up the ladder of a male-dominant industry is really interesting and keeps me coming back every time,” she said. “I really enjoy hearing them speak and am empowered by what they do.”
What started as a hobby for Mitchell has become a community of women who share the same love and optimism for high-intensity competitive gaming.
“Lots of friendships are made during these events. It’s really cool,” Mitchell said. “Having that community reminds you that you don’t need to worry and that there is a space for you.”
A welcoming space.
“People fear being bullied or made fun of, and it hinders their ability to add and contribute really great things to either our program or other organizations years from now,” Mendivil said. “Bringing people in that are women inspires the attitude of, ‘She does that? I can do that, too.’”
Mitchell said another aspect she loves about the league is how it quashes stereotypes of who a gamer should be.
“Years ago, it was considered weird for women to play competitively. Women should be able to express themselves and do what they want rather than having societal standards fall upon them,” Mitchell said.
Added Mendivil, “You start by making the space, and we’ve done that here. We’ve opened the door, and the louder that we can be with what we are doing, the more people will know and feel welcomed by it."
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