Esports and Accessibility; A Conversation with Royal Holloway’s Games Society

Alex discusses the esports community on campus whilst in conversation with Royal Holloway's Game Society

Despite playing video games for most of my life, I can’t say I’ve had much experience with competitive gaming. I had always preferred single-player games, with the odd game of MarioKart or Street Fighter whenever I visited a friend’s house. As much as I love games, I cannot claim to be any good at them. Which is why the concept of esports, or competitive gaming, always seemed a little foreign to me. I spoke with the new team behind Royal Holloway’s Games Society, Mercedes Mayes, president, Yuji Aoyama, vice president, and Malik Hashi, esports representative, on the topic of the esports scene at Royal Holloway. 

After our discussion I had just learned a ton about esports itself and its presence at Royal Holloway, and I felt confident I could get involved. We talked about what esports at our university is like, what the society’s aims are for the coming year, and specifically, what issues they faced in terms of accessibility, and what they were going to do to tackle them.

Around 150 students get involved with Games Society’s esports night, with many of them starting their own teams for games like League of Legends, Overwatch, CS:GO and Valorant. A RHUL esports team recently won 2nd place in a Magic: The Gathering tournament, winning around £8000, the society’s biggest victory yet.

I have learned that esports is a lot like “regular” sports in that it can be enjoyed at all levels. It’s still sport if you kick a ball around a field with your friends, and it’s still esport if you play a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. In our discussion, one word was thrown around more than any other: “casual”. One of Games Society’s goals for this year is to get more casual gamers into esports, whether it’s just to spectate, try their hand at some competitive gaming, or even start their own team. 

The goal, then, is to makes esports more accessible, not just to casual gamers, but also to more women and minorities. It’s no secret that, while enjoyed by just as many women as men, gaming is very male dominated industry. It offers more jobs to men, it advertises more to men, and the games it produces feature more men on their covers. Orbital recently covered the allegations made against Ubisoft, whose top executives and most powerful employees were harassing and sexually assaulting their staff. Furthermore, the industry does a poor job of representing minorities, and incidents of racist language from online players isn’t punished nearly as often as it should be. These facts are not lost on Games Society’s committee. Yuji expressed disappointment that “people who look like me” aren’t represented, and seemingly aren’t cared about by developers. Despite being the world’s most popular pastime, it doesn’t feel as inclusive as it should be.

I asked the committee what they thought was the best way to tackle these issues from their end, and it basically boils down to two methods. The first; diversifying the committee and the second; being more collaborative and open. It’s thrilling to see such a diverse committee this year, and the conscious effort they make to be inclusive and accessible. Furthermore, the reason I was even able to talk to their committee was their willingness to work with other societies and groups, and the effort and creativity that went into our debate impressed me. They stressed the importance of opening up to the rest of Royal Holloway, and of facilitating as much of that as possible.

Competitive gaming is entirely collaborative anyway. They have to work with universities across the country to compete with one another. The goal is really just to extend that attitude within Royal Holloway itself (other societies, new students, etc.), and even to other organisations outside of it. One key collaboration they have already made this year is with Women in Games, a non-profit organisation determined to help women achieve their full potential in the games industry and stamp out discrimination and inequality wherever they can. Their founder and COO, David Smith, has met with many universities across the country, including ours, to see how they get people involved in gaming. It’s one of our university’s biggest steps towards making gaming here as welcoming and inclusive as possible, and it’s wonderful to see.

Alex Whiteman