Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, will be the first women's college to sponsor a varsity esports program. The Stars will field a 12-person Overwatch team, which includes a starting lineup and bench of six players each, to compete in the Tespa Collegiate Series this coming fall. While there are a number of professional all-women's esports teams already – that scene is particularly strong in pro Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – Stephens is the first varsity collegiate program of its kind in the United States, and possibly the world.
According to ESPN, the institution now counts esports among its nine athletics programs and is offering partial scholarships for players that join its team. "Our mission is to ensure that women can succeed and can make choices about anything they do in any environment and in any profession," Stephens College president Dianne Lynch told ESPN. "That's our mission. So why would we not do it in esports?"
This announcement sees Stephens College become the 31st college to join the National Association of Collegiate Esports, which ESPN notes makes up 95% of the current varsity esports teams nationally.
We spoke with Blizzard's Adam Rosen – who co-founded and serves as co-president of Tespa (the acronym for the Texas Esports Association) – about his work to to bring collegiate esports to campuses across the country, and he commented: "Why should universities care about esports? Well, there are obvious benefits – they have stable ways to compete against other universities, fans are more engaged (which drives donations), but there's also recruitment and retention. In esports, we have another hook for universities in that people who are participating right now are very technical – 70% of the players in the round of 64 for Heroes of the Dorm are STEM majors. Universities see that and say "we want to attract this demographic."