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SUNY Canton hosts open house for women’s e-sports

CANTON — In a room with 25 glowing computer screens and a row of gaming consoles, SUNY Canton’s e-sports program hosted the inaugural Women in e-sports open house Friday evening.

About 40 young women, a mix of middle, high school and college students, as well as SUNY staff, gathered in Nevaldine Hall to play “Overwatch” and “League of Legends,” among other popular video games.

The e-sports program started in 2017 and opened its ESports Arena in August 2018 through a SUNY Performance Investment Fund grant. Since programming began and gamers found one another on campus, e-sports at the university has expanded, and participants have worked to recruit more women.

“The women who join e-sports are super passionate about the program, passionate enough to join a team and be a leader,” said Emily Oeser, a junior at the university and captain of varsity e-sports.

Now, the program boasts one all-women team among several other junior varsity and varsity teams in seven different game categories: “League of Legends,” “Hearthstone,” “Overwatch,” “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” “Rocket League” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”

The competitive component of the program involves teams “playing to their strengths,” Oeser said, so students competing in Tespa, a collegiate e-sports organization, and ECAC events, often against larger and more long-standing programs, can play to the best of their abilities.

Tryouts are typically held twice a year and involve current team members shadowing prospective players to note flexibility in gameplay and gaming styles.

The non-competitive component of the program aims to provide a space for new and experienced gamers alike to share gaming strategies and experiences.

Oeser said the e-sports program has hosted open houses in the past as a way to bring in younger gamers in middle and high school, but Friday’s event was the first open house geared toward young women.

“These kids, if they want to play video games, they’re going to play video games,” Oeser said. “It could be alone in their room, or it could be under faculty supervision and on a team with other kids.”

The e-sports program and its support of women gamers coincide with the university’s campus-wide ethos, “everyone is welcome here,” according to Courtney Battista Bish, vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Since 2017, the response to e-sports from the campus community, Battista Bish said, has been “incredibly positive.” This year alone, she said more than 100 students tried out for e-sports teams.

“It can only grow from here,” she said.

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