Esports program still hopes to fulfill promise of becoming PNW’s first co-ed varsity team


As the world of collegiate esports gains momentum, PNW officials say they hope to broaden their reach to female student-athletes. 

“Anything that we can do to be more inclusive, we’re trying to do,” said Justin Bragg, head coach of the Pride esports team. 

The first public university in Indiana to offer esports at the varsity level, PNW joined over 170 universities in the U.S. when it launched what was billed as co-ed competitive gaming in February. 

Many of these teams, however, remain male dominated, according to a May 2020 study by Critical Studies in Media Communication, a journal published for the National Communication Association. 

The study, which surveyed leaders of both esports clubs and varsity programs in the U.S., concluded that universities have not necessarily taken the steps to cultivate and retain female gamers. 

All 11 current members of PNW’s esports team are male freshmen. 

Kenneth Holford, vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, said the addition of games popular among women could be the answer to the problem. 

“Over time I would hope that esports continues to add titles that are attractive to an increasingly broader student base and that more students have an opportunity to get involved,” he said. 

Bragg, who is leading the team in its inaugural 2020-2021 season of “League of Legends” and “Rocket League” competition, says there are plans to do just that. 

“Within the next year to five years, as we’re slowly expanding, we’re going to be looking to add more titles,” he said. 

“Call of Duty,” a first-person shooter game, and “Super Smash Bros.,” a crossover fighting game that features characters from various Nintendo franchises, are two of those titles popular with female gamers, according to a 2019 survey by Statista, a market and consumer data company. 

In an August press release, the Pride esports program announced that it will add both “Call of Duty” and “Super Smash Bros.,” as well as “Hearthstone,” a strategy card game, and “Overwatch,” a team-based, multiplayer, first-person shooter game.

For Rick Costello, director of athletics, the addition of these games is just one step towards growing the program. 

“Just like all the rest of our athletic teams, we’re going to have to continue to invest,” he said. “I can’t wait to see women join our program and have just a wonderful experience as we compete to be one of the best college programs in the country.”