The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

GV Esports changes the playing field with new team promoting inclusivity

GVL | Alena Visnovsky

The Grand Valley State University’s Esports club announced the launch of their three Premier Teams: Rocket League, Valorant and Valorant Game Changers. 

While playing competitively at this level is new for GVSU Esports, the club is also breaking ground in other ways. The Valorant Game Changers team is the first Esports team focused solely on women and marginalized genders at GVSU. 

Riot Games, the creator of Valorant, coined the term “Game Changers”’ and created a competitive circuit for specifically women and marginalized genders to compete on. The overall initiative aims to invite more inclusivity into the Esports world, a historically male-dominated environment. GVSU was eager to follow. 

“It was a unique opportunity for us to elevate some of our women leaders within our program,” Riley Long, the coordinator and assistant director of Esports at GVSU, said. “It’s a way to really start to pave the path forward for gender equity within our program.”

While Riot Games has introduced other Game Changers leagues over the past few years with games such as League of Legends, the addition of Valorant was new this year, and so is the adoption of that movement to university Esports clubs and teams. 

“This was a unique opportunity for Grand Valley to stand out nationally, because it isn’t very common, especially to elevate a Game Changer’s team to somewhat of a varsity team- it’s one of the first of its kind,” Long said.

Currently, there are only a few existing Game Changers teams at the collegiate level. Having this type of team at GVSU is a special opportunity for any gamers who identify as female or otherwise non-masculine identities and are interested in playing at a competitive level. Other universities, such as Ferris State University, are now also looking toward creating their own Game Changers teams. 

The team consists of five members who typically meet three times a week for practice, with the exclusion of weeks where they have matches. Each member went through the two days of tryouts and played a total of five games to make it to the final round, in which they played alongside the other students who would soon become their teammates.

While the Game Changers team is relatively new to the GVSU Esports club, Sydney Lim, a member of the Valorant Game Changers team, has had nothing but a positive experience.

“I’ve been on varsity teams in high school, but this is completely different. I never thought that I’d get the chance to play competitively for the school,” Lim said. “I hope that the team shows that there are women who are playing for the school and that they’re comfortable coming into the center, even though it’s predominantly male (players) in there.”

Lim, who has been a part of the Esports club since they opened the Laker Esports Center (LEC) in 2021, has felt the stigma of being a woman interested in Esports. However, that hasn’t stopped her. 

“I definitely think when I was first there last year, I was definitely nervous. When I think of video games, I think of guys being guys in a space that feels like it’s theirs,” Lim said. “But as soon as I’ve been making friends in the club, I realize that it’s not that. I just needed to put myself out there a little more.”

The Esports club holds many popular events, such as the weekly Smash Bros meetup, but one special event they do is their women’s gaming nights. Held once a month, it’s a time for the women and other non-male-identifying gamers to explore the state-of-the-art technology in the LEC. When Lim began attending these events, she would see only a handful of other attendees. Now, the group has grown, and Lim expressed she is thrilled.

Cameron Houtman, the president of the Esports club, has noticed how the events have developed and more individuals are comfortable in the Esports space.  

“There’s kind of a stigma around Esports, of it being a bunch of men playing video games and yelling at each other. Men are aggressive, they yell at each other, and that can deter people,” Houtman said. “The more women and marginalized genders that come into play, the less deterring it is and the more relaxed it is because you see more likeness of people that are similar to you and have similar interests, so it feels more welcoming.” 

Lim’s teammates Sydney Markey and Mary Scher are new to Esports at GVSU and have loved the experience so far. Both started playing video games when they were much younger, starting off with Minecraft and eventually growing into first-person-shooter games and Valorant. Markey brought her love for video games to college. She felt welcomed into a community with shared interests and where she could develop new skills. 

“I wanna learn more. The reason why I did this is because of the coaches, so I hope I get more experience, but also just to play with my teammates more,” Markey said.

Scher said the club has been influential during her time at GVSU, and she has forged friendships during their time on the team. 

“I had friends back home at Rochester who were in Esports, so that’s how I found out it was a thing at colleges. So, as soon as I got here, I sought out our club at the freshman fair,” Scher said. “A lot of other teams, it feels like it can be stressful to be on, with us, yes we try, but we also know that we’re doing our best while we’re having fun. I hope we win, but I also just hope we keep bonding.”

Sadie Doctor, the in-game lead for the Valorant Game Changers Premier Team, has had a positive experience. Doctor is going into her second year as a part of the Esports club at GVSU and has noticed more structure and funding for the club which has led to many benefits. During her time as an in-game lead, she has felt her role and time in the organization have been rewarding.

“I don’t think there’s any effort that I’ve put in that hasn’t been matched by an equally satisfying reward, in a way, like seeing it come to fruition in a game or something like that,” Doctor said. 

Despite the efforts to increase inclusivity in the Esports scene at GVSU, that doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. As president, Houtman continues to work towards inclusivity in the Esports scene at GVSU: addressing norms and stereotypes as well as creating a more equitable environment. 

“You’ll occasionally have guys that will make comments that I don’t even really think they understand are sexist or misogynistic or unkind,” Houtman said. “It really opens my eyes as far as why that needs to change, and how much better we can do as a community. Again, it does have that stigma where it’s very male-dominated, it’s very competitive, it’s very aggressive- it’s all true. But you can still do a better job. It’s just a bunch of kids playing video games anyway. There’s not really a reason that we have to exclude people for what they believe or identify as.”

While the GVSU Esports team continues to shape an inclusive organization, Long and many others look ahead optimistically. 

“This is an opportunity to start breaking down those barriers and say that we are investing in the competitive talent of the women and marginalized genders we have at Grand Valley, and creating a space for them to thrive,” Long said. 

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