A US college has become the first all-women's college to offer a competitive gaming scholarship to prospective students. The college is looking to put together an Overwatch team in time for autumn season of the Tespa Cup later this year.
ESPN reports (via Esports Pro) that college president Dianne Lynch and her staff first considered the idea of putting together a varsity esports program last year, and saw Blizzard shooter Overwatch as an ideal fit.
"Our mission is to ensure that women can succeed and can make choices about anything they do in any environment and in any profession," she said. "That's our mission. So why would we not do it in esports?"
Lynch told ESPN that Overwatch, a diverse hero-based shooter that's proven enormously, enduringly popular since it launched in May 2016, was selected because "it meshed with the college's mission".
While plenty of US colleges already offer competitive gaming scholarships, that an all-women's college is doing so is great news for the esports industry, which is currently dominated by men.
"We recognise that that is the current status quo in commercial professional gaming and even in recreational gaming," she said, before adding that the demographic standards can be broken.
"Our hope is that we will be able to create a culture on campus where the only people in the room who are gaming are women, so you have this dynamic that eliminates that other, sort of negative culture out of their immediate space," Lynch said
The college hopes to create a 12-person squad in time for Tespa's autumn Overwatch competition, which last year drew 220 teams and put $100,000 up for grabs.
"This is just an extension of what it means to be an athlete," Lynch said of how pro gaming compares to traditional sport. "Athletics has certain characteristics and certain qualities that enrich an athlete's life. There are multiple kinds of athletics, and this is just a new kind.
"It's different, and it looks different, and it feels different, but it is, as you know, one of the most rapidly growing industries and athletic events in the world."
Tespa is collegiate pro gaming organisation formed from a network of colleges. "Whether you enjoy gaming with friends or have ambitions to compete on the biggest stages in esports, Tespa gives college students the best opportunities to realize and embrace their passion for gaming," its website states.
Tespa is best known for its Heroes of the Storm tournament Heroes of the Dorm, which for its first two years was broadcast on US sports network ESPN. In 2017 the tournament will be broadcast exclusively on Facebook.
Adam Rosen, co-founder of Tespa, said: "Stephens, specifically, is really unique, particularly in the interest the university has in the team. I think the team, hopefully, will be role models for others. Having a team like Stephens involved, I think will be an inspiration for students. They're all taking it so seriously and making all the right moves."