The annual Games For Change Festival allows creators and entrepreneurs to share their projects and ideas on just about anything. Esports was a hot topic this year, and the “Esports: Competitive Play and Social Good” panel allowed four professionals with different relationships with esports to talk about the growing area of play.

The four panel members were moderator Maya Kushner, an attorney and coach with Game Gym, Nathan Lindberg, the Director of Esport Sponsorship Sales with Twitch, Gerald Solomon, the executive director of the Samueli Foundation, and Ben Nichol, the Head of Events and Business Development for New York Excelsior, New York City’s first professional esports team.

Kushner began by asking each member of the panel to define what they think esports is. Kushner herself said she considered it the “competitive side of gaming,” even if it’s not national, and just at home with friends. Nichol had a similar answer, just considering it people who play games together, and Solomon added to this that it’s a kind of “Trojan Horse” to give an opportunity to people who otherwise would not have it. Finally, Lindberg said it was play, but play that has the “organized aspects of competitive play“–like baseball, hockey, or any other more traditional sport.

Games for Change
Maya Kushner, Nathan Lindberg, Gerald Solomon, and Ben Nichol

Kushner then asked what everyone saw or considered to be big trends in the industry currently. She used big-name investors getting into the game as an example. Esports trends cited ranged from their new emergence into educational settings, increases in accessibility, and some double-edged swords. For example, open, expansive communities allow everyone in to foster creativity and ingenuity, but this openness and newness means there aren’t quite social norms just yet, which can lead to problems.

Smaller trends in esports the panel members have noticed or suspect will make themselves apparent also came up. Again, there was an emphasis on communities forming, with Lindberg suggesting that esports even have the potential for global unification. Kushner joked that because of her background in law, she foresees “more lawsuits,” as different countries’ different IP laws interact and intermingle.

A big question Kushner had was regarding how inclusion in esports can play out, especially for women. She mentioned that in the competitions she has watched, at least in North America, are primarily men, and even in companies, she sees few women in leadership roles. She suggested that the panel discusses barriers that keep women out of these spots first.

Esports venues gather huge crowds, but women tend to be underrepresented in them.

Nichol opened, saying that many men would like to see more women in the esports realm, himself included. Solomon built off of this, saying that if someone doesn’t see themselves in a field or community, they may be hesitant to step in. Lindberg added that at this time, there aren’t those leaders yet, and it would be unfair to force that leadership role onto a woman in the industry simply because she is a woman in the industry. He added that “Inclusivity and opportunity can be reached, but it must be done in the same way.”

Kushner warned that we must also be careful about falling into the “separate but equal” trope, but that it is okay to “carve out some spaces for underrepresented populations.” She noted that she has been apart of women-only classes she has been apart of where women are more comfortable. It can also help avoid negative stereotypes that can have negative impacts and create self-fulfilling prophecies.

Of course, this immediately led to how toxicity and empathy should be dealt with in the esports realm, especially with younger players. Coaching and mentoring kids from the start helps, as well as setting the right example yourself–and having the willingness to have the conversation with kids when they misstep.

Interestingly, Solomon added that this is as much of a responsibility of the industry as it is of the individual. Kushner added that everyone should pay attention to the language they use, as “language [is] a powerful tool.”

The panel ended on this powerful reminder, and if you would like to learn more about these topics, you can watch this panel for yourself on Games For Change’s Facebook page, or check out the links included at the beginning of this article.

Games For Change Festival 2019 ran from June 17 to June 19 at The New School in New York City. For more information on the festival or organization itself, you can check out Games For Change’s website and our hub page for the festival, which includes coverage for the 2018 festival as well.

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