UCI Esports Hosts Third Annual Girls in Gaming Summer Camp


by | Aug 22, 2019, 12:00PM PDT

From July 8th to 12th, UCI Esports hosted our third annual Girls in Gaming summer camp, opening our doors to twelve ambitious young women interested in learning more about the professional opportunities available in the video gaming industry.

The program, which debuted in 2017, seeks to address the lack of female representation in esports by exposing its participants to games-related career paths they might not have considered—or known existed—beforehand.

“During the camp, participants learn from experts in the industry about the plethora of options within esports,” says Kathy Chiang, the camp’s lead and assistant director of UCI Esports. “Our outreach camps focus on building pipelines, enabling and encouraging more young women to get involved in esports through different roles and at varying levels.”

Although UC Irvine, long a forerunner in the bid to increase young women’s participation in esports, has contributed significantly to positive change in recent years through initiatives such as Girls in Gaming, Chiang believes there’s more to be done.

“It seems like the lack of (sufficient) female representation is becoming one of the most discussed and visible issues in esports these days, and it’s definitely one that has been personally relevant to many among our staff and in my own life as well. I believe it’s extremely important to think of multiple strategies to improve this, from improving education and awareness to building special programs and guidelines.”

The relevant question to ask, on hearing Chiang’s words, is “What exactly goes into building these programs and guidelines?” How does an idea—let’s show young women that there are opportunities available for them in the gaming industry—become a reality?

As Allison Le, a fourth-year mathematics major and junior administrator of the 2019 Girls in Gaming camp, explains, the process is quite involved. Although Girls in Gaming has been around since 2017, camp staff build its schedule from the ground up every year, incorporating fresh ideas and insights into their curriculum to keep things relevant to the industry’s current state.

“We looked at previous speakers, found connections we had made throughout the year, and chose the topics we thought spoke to us the most,” says Le, describing the work involved in designing this year’s schedule. “After creating a rough outline of what we wanted to do, we grouped the topics in days, like media on one day, esports management on another day, and so on.”

While Le, who manages UCI’s scholarship League of Legends team during the academic year, is no stranger to wrangling packed schedules, she expressed appreciation for those who dedicated their time to helping her develop this year’s program.

“This was my first year running camps, so I received a lot of advice from the full time staff. I couldn’t have done it without those who focused on outreach efforts, either—because of them, everything was able to fall into place cleanly.”

With all the behind-the-scenes work that went into making 2019’s Girls in Gaming camp special, it’s no surprise that the participants had a great time during their week at UCI. Between interactive talks with women involved in the gaming industry, activities around campus, and group play—dubbed Teamfight Tactics—in the Arena, campers always had something to do. Despite initial difficulties in introducing the group to games only a few had played before, Le reports that the girls rose eagerly to the challenge.

“By the end of the week, we’d successfully had the arena in an uproar during our mock tournament. It’s a clear example of how games can bring a really diverse group together.”

Le believes that, as the program continues to grow, it will incorporate new features that further the goal of bringing diverse groups together through games.

“I’m thinking that, next year,  maybe we’ll find a speaker who can spark the campers’ creativity by leading a session where they brainstorm their very own game. Don’t get me wrong; we had some really great speakers this year. But the engaging ones are always the most memorable, and Kathy and I are keen to let the campers explore their creativity in a hands-on environment.”

Campers gathered in the UCI Esports Arena at the end of the week for the program’s closing ceremony.

Le’s closing thoughts?

“I think the biggest benefit of attending Girls in Gaming is that campers are able to see beyond what they might see in the media—see that there’s plenty of diversity in the video game industry. Oftentimes girls might be steered away from video games, but the truth is, there are plenty of women out there. A lot of our speakers didn’t graduate high school or college knowing that they were going to work in games. But their love for video games brought them here, and I don’t doubt that the girls I met during camp will be trailblazers for the future of the industry.”


Why Gamers Should Read Black Authors


by | Sep 24, 2020, 7:30AM PDT

Years from now when people ask “where were you in 2020?” I will respond, “online, and I hated every second of it.”

2020 was a year filled with strife and changes, as many of the country’s issues were placed under the microscope of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were made privy to the fragility of our healthcare system, made to grapple with the mistreatment of our workers, and we saw just how little our government was ready to deal with the unseen threat of a virus. As buildings and campuses became unsafe for congregations, schools and businesses quickly transitioned from physical interaction to remote operations, trading desks for couches, and cubicles for bedrooms. As an academic I soon saw myself writing grants, hosting calls, and meeting with colleagues all through the screen of my computer. Just like that my and many other lives became mediated through digital platforms.

But then came May and the US caught fire as major cities around America erupted in protest after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Perry Floyd Jr. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him on camera. The act was such a clear show of police misconduct and brutality that not only did protest emerge in Minneapolis but in cities like Los Angeles and New York. People across America took to the streets to protest what was a vile and malicious act of policing and unfortunately (and ironically) were subsequently met with the very force they went out there to speak against. Agitations flared, peaceful protest turned into physical confrontation, and long-ignored anger and sorrow became the fuel for the flames which burned signs, buildings, and coincidentally an NYPD van.

Yet, still, for many, the most heated moments of the protest were not experienced in person but rather were witnessed second hand through their television or through social media online. As the protest raged on, Twitter threads became battlegrounds, YouTube videos spun narratives, and the internet yet again became the hotbed for information and dialogue around the events many were experiencing. With #BlackLivesMatter trending yet again in response to the death of ANOTHER Black person at the hands of the police, the online blurred yet again with the physical. So much so, that social media became the key place where I, a Black man, kept up with the news, contacted friends and family who were near protest areas, and was made to relive the trauma of watching Floyd lose his life again and again as it was shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter both as both a form of awareness and as jokes from those craven enough to mock a man posthumously. And, while I donated to BLM initiatives, honked my horn in-vehicle protest, and showed up physically where I could, I—like so many—experienced the brunt of this protest online.

So, it should not come as a surprise when I say that it was not in person or even on Twitter where I got into my harshest debates, but instead, it was within video games like Overwatch and League of Legends where I found the most abuse. In fact, it was gaming spaces like these that became the hardest to occupy during the time of the protest. In an attempt to find some semblance of peace while the world burned, I decided to turn on Overwatch (a hero first-person shooter from the company Blizzard) to try to take the edge off. After some time, I was eventually placed with 11 other players and dropped into a starting zone to wait. However, instead of the typical banter of roles and positions, I was met with a “hello my fellow African Americans, let’s go burn and loot some stores because BLACK LIVES MATTER!” from one of my teammates. Reminded that video games seldom work as escapism for black people, I contemplated whether to let the comment go or to make a scene. I chose the latter.

I responded with “do you think that’s funny?” which prompted him to say “of course! Because they should not be out there at all, because ALL LIVES MATTER!” and quickly an argument ensued. Shouting in a way I am not all too proud of, I went back and forth with the player, I shouted the names of those killed—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin—only to have him respond with conspiracies like the FBI started BLM and comments like “slavery didn’t matter.” It didn’t take long for our remaining teammates to mute us with one going as far as to exclaim, “I don’t play this for politics.” In hindsight I think I would have been better off ignoring the troll—I must admit I was perturbed, livid in fact. Livid that a player used the game as his platform for racism and livid at the apathy of the other players viewing the deaths of Black men and women as simple politics. While the game’s very company (Blizzard) was tweeting in support of Black Lives, its players continued to disparage them. With each engagement I grew colder and angrier, each bout of racism striking deeper than the last until eventually, I arrived at simply telling people to shut the… well you can finish the rest.

Unfortunately, what I experienced is nothing new, as scholars such as Kishonna Gray, Andre Brock, Anna Everett, Samantha Blackmon, TreaAndrea Russworm, and many others have written extensively on the experiences of Black players similar to my own. However, as more and more games become spaces for online interaction, I and many others are yet again forced to acknowledge that games and the many who play them are not always aware of the struggles non-white gamers may go through. But, in writing this piece and sharing my experience I do not want this to come off as an accusation of gamers and gaming practices (there are other avenues for such), but instead as an opportunity to engage with perspectives that have been ignored or overlooked.

As many of us face yet another crisis in our communities, where Black life is threatened for simply existing (under the blanket of COVID no less), it is important to remember that games, as peripheral as they may seem, work as powerful sites of cultural creation and expression. I could not escape my pain through games because the same rhetoric, behavior, and trauma that took place in the physical informed and shaped the virtual. That is why this piece is less of an accusation and simply a call to action.

In a time where Black players face constant racial abuse both inside and outside of games, I propose that gamers engage with the history of this country and the writings of Black scholars, activists, and people. In wanting to see a healthier gaming community, I have curated a list of books, short readings, and articles to read in hopes that gamers and the gaming community at large will pick up the call and accept this challenge. While by no means extensive, the list provided will offer introductory reading to familiarize oneself with Black history in the US and the Black experience in areas such as school, healthcare, and most apropos, online spaces. While seemingly unrelated, there is much to be gained by engaging with past and current writers, and only when we have an informed gaming population can we hope to see change.


Akil Fletcher grew up in New York where he received a B.A in Anthropology from the City College of New York. Currently, he is a Ph.D student in the anthropology department at the University of California Irvine, where he researches the navigation of Black video game players online. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Akil researches how Black players form and manage communities in spaces that are often hostile to Black participants.

If you would like to join in on discussing any of the readings from Akil Fletcher’s list, you are welcome to the UCI Esports Discord server‘s #book-club channel.