Women discuss inclusivity among gaming community amid plans for new esports arena

Isabella Gonzalez-Lawson, Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 30 flipbook. 

By day, Alesha Kimble presents herself as a typical UT student. By night, Kimble serves as the master for a competitive “World of Warcraft” guild. Her persona online goes on adventures between fantastical realms to fight monsters with friends. 

Kimble played until this past summer, when Blizzard Entertainment, the company that spearheaded “World of Warcraft” and other major video game titles such as “Overwatch” and “Diablo,” came under fire for rampant sexual harassment within the workplace. 

“When I found out, I felt very disappointed because I considered Blizzard games to be something of comfort,” the speech-language-pathology senior said, “At that moment we had been working on stuff for the guild, and I noticed immediately that our motivation had dropped. None of us wanted to do anything anymore because it’s like, how could we sit here and continue to support this game while they’re doing (misogynistic) things.”

Sexism within the gaming industry reflects the sexism within the gaming community, Kimble said.

Last spring, UT announced plans to develop an esports arena — an area with computers and gaming chairs where students can game together — within the Texas Union. As gaming organizations gain popularity on campus, its underbelly of misogyny remains constant. 

UT’s expansive gaming community includes over five clubs and hundreds of people. Women in Gaming in particular offers a space for women who have had negative interactions in the gaming community. Shreya Agarwala, the president of Women in Gaming, emphasized the importance of creating spaces for women. 

“Noticeably when you go to meetings with Longhorn Gaming, there are less women in the room,” Agarwala, a finance senior, said. “That has to do with the fact that oftentimes the negative experiences women have online with gaming are related to things that men will say.”

Women in Gaming aims to combat the isolation women usually feel when entering the gaming community by providing a space for female gamers, Agarwala said.

“Playing online games can be rough sometimes if you are a girl,” Agarwala said. “It’s a very deep rooted problem in gaming, this idea that women are not good at video games.”

As for Kimble, she worries the new esports arena will intimidate gamers, most notably female gamers, as the arena will also be used to house Longhorn Gaming’s competitive esports teams.

“You go into a space and you want to interact and find peers to play video games with but you feel this aura of intimidation,” Kimble said. “When women go into these gaming spaces, they already have these stereotypes or expectations placed against them.”

Longhorn Gaming partners with the Union to lead the formation of the new esports arena. Daphnee Grignon, a communications and leadership junior, said the new esports arena will legitimize esports’ presence on campus. 

With Grignon’s background as a pro esports player, she said she understands the prominence of discrimination within gaming firsthand. As she stepped into the role as director of esports for Longhorn Gaming, she said she made sure to nurture a welcoming gaming community. 

“We crack down on any any sort of toxicity, whether it be homophobia, (or) discrimination against women, we just put our foot down.” Grignon said. “Having these strict guidelines that say ‘We’re not going to tolerate this sort of behavior,’ has really helped our communities be more inclusive.” 

Grignon attributes major developments in Longhorn Gaming to the officers who make it their priority to promote inclusivity. She said she loves how Longhorn Gaming rises above typical gaming communities in terms of inclusivity and hopes this difference will be reflected in the new esports arena. 

“People who aren’t in (Longhorn Gaming) can come and try the space out,” Grignon said. “Even if they’re hesitant, we’re a very inclusive community. We want people to have a good time, and that’s all we really want.”