Game Changers: Women-only esports team does well in premiere competition

Sydney Lim, who is on pace to earn degrees in marketing and business economics in December, considers herself an avid gamer. Yet Lim said she was hesitant to step into the Laker Esports Center when that facility opened two years ago in the Kirkhof Center.

"The first semester it opened, I looked in there and it seemed to be all guys playing, so I walked by," Lim said. "Later that semester I was craving to play, plus the center's computers have great specs for gaming. I thought, 'Maybe if I go in, other girls will see me in there and maybe they will be more willing to go in there.'"

Sydney Lim in an esports jersey holding up the Laker L and smiling, she has glasses on
Sydney Lim is dressed in her esports jersey. Lim was a member of the Game Changers team, which finished second in the National Association of Collegiate Esports’ Varsity Plus Valorant Conference.
Image credit - courtesy of esports program

Lim's inclination to step into the center aligns with the esports program’s value of inclusion. Now a sponsored organization housed in Recreation and Wellness, the Laker Esports Center has intentionally hosted women-only game nights and recruited women and students from diverse genders to play on teams or during drop-in hours, according to Riley Long, an assistant director for Recreation and Wellness, who oversees the esports program.

Those efforts have proved fruitful. Lim and other members of the Game Changers, an esports team composed of women, finished second in the National Association of Collegiate Esports’ Varsity Plus Valorant Conference. 

Sponsoring a Game Changers team is unique in the collegiate esports world, as most programs have all-male or co-ed teams. Only once did the team play other Game Changer teams and Lim said that was a tournament sponsored by Valorant.

Sadie Doctor in her GVSU esports jersey
Sadie Doctor was the Game Changers' team captain. Doctor earned a bachelor's degree in psychology last week.
Image credit - courtesy of esports program

Valorant is a first-person tactical shooter game and its characters have certain roles and abilities. Long said it's the most popular game at the esports center, ahead of Rocket League and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

Lim was encouraged to try out for the Valorant Game Changers team by other student gamers last fall. Sadie Doctor, who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology last week, was the team captain. 

"Last year, I played on a club Valorant team and was the only woman on the team," Doctor said. "Riley messaged me over the summer and asked what I would think about leading the Game Changers."

Doctor said while team members connected as friends, they did not instantly connect as teammates in their roles on Valorant.

"We had to take on more aggressive roles that women usually don't do, more fighting roles," Doctor said. "We had to learn to trust our experience. Some teammates were low-ranked players but our quality of play surpassed a lot of the teams we played once we learned to trust one another."

Lim agreed, saying her initial role while playing Valorant was as an agent, a protector of the team. Then she began to enjoy playing more aggressive roles.

"Women may be nervous to make mistakes during a game and get called out. Or, they might be nervous of critique and whatever someone would say," she said.

Long said the center's intentionality toward inclusion spills over to its goals of aiding the university's recruitment and retention efforts. The growth of the center has allowed Long to hire part-time coaches for its premiere league teams. 

A new studio, in partnership with the School of Communications, has allowed the esports program to livestream premier team matches multiple days per week. The program has hosted and broadcast two high school events this year. Long said he has hired more student employees to broadcast and announce matches, in addition to serving in other support roles.


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