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Esports & Education: How HBCUs are Leveling the Field

Date & Time

Jun. 4, 2021
12:00pm – 4:00pm ET




Millions of people worldwide participate in the growing phenomenon of esports, the activity where video games are played competitively, much like traditional sports. Thousands of students nationwide are participating in esports, both in K-12 and the collegiate scene. Yet how esports is fitted into educational environments varies. Esports in education can range from treating it as part of the athletics program, an extracurricular activity, a community-based effort, or aligning it to core curriculums. 

What remains consistent is the lack of diversity for both those who play esports and the spaces in which esports occur. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are trying to change this by supporting the growth of clubs and teams on their campuses; creating curriculums around esports and promoting academic success; and reaching beyond their campus to support young K-12 students.

This programming will focus on how HBCUs are engaging with esports: What does it mean to “do” esports today for HBCUs? What is informing the shape of esports programming on HBCU campuses, and what does the future hold for esports? How can we make esports more diverse? In doing so, we hope to highlight ways to build capacity by showing what is needed to launch an esports program.

Questions regarding this event can be directed to Dr. Elizabeth Newbury, Director of the Serious Games Initiative, 

This event is hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Serious Games Initiative, with leadership from Johnson C. Smith University. This event is part of the 2021 and 8th Annual ED Games Expo, a showcase of game-changing innovations in education technology supported by programs across government. Technical assistance for this event was provided by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


  • "Fortunately HBCUs are leading the charge, educating, and training black students in critically needed STEM skills...HBCUs are paving the way for broadening participation in STEM and standpoints to play a major role in expanding opportunities for students through educational technologies and esports."

    "Well designed esports programs in HBCUs can contribute to increasing the student recruitment and retention and they also can be leveraged to promote STEM learning and serve as a gateway to a career in coding, programming, and game design. "

  • "Right now, over 200 colleges and universities in the US have an esports program and more campuses everyday are expanding their programming from extracurricular clubs to academic support of esports."

    "Historically black colleges and universities are seizing this opportunity [esports] for innovation and new horizons in workforce development. They’re building spaces on campus for esports providing not only opportunities for students to play and build communities, but also to learn critical skills in STEM and beyond. "

  • "We have to be aware of the communities of play at work and how those impact diversity and inclusion as well."

    "One of the interesting things about HBCUs are that they are embracing the idea of pipeline support. It's not just restricted to 'how do I get academic engagement on my campus,' but it's also 'how do I engage the broader community at play' and younger students in esports and through esports to try and facilitate that pipeline."

  • “The students that we hear from in our focus groups, especially our HBCU scholars, tell us all the time you gotta think outside the box and not for nothing. Esports is thinking outside the box. How can you educate folks while gaming and doing these things? So simply put, I think that it’s allowing students to really see themselves in a career field that they find to be fun. Something that they’re doing just for fun can be translated into a career during college and post matriculation. It’s not just my job, it's my career and I enjoy doing it.” 

    “We have to meet students where they are and esports is an experiential learning opportunity for our students. When you think about it as I was saying earlier, we are a liberal arts university and what we want to do is challenge our students.” 

  • “The difference between a job and career is ‘Would you do it for free’, right? And some of these students would absolutely game or lead gaming or work in that field for free. And so why not educate them and give them the tools to? It’s gaming today, but what about business? What about entrepreneurship? What about desk hosting? What about being an entrepreneur leading a tournament? It’s a billion dollar industry. Why not do something that you’re already doing for free and so that is one of the reasons why Morris Brown wanted to jump into the esports arena.”

    “Many different companies come into town [Atlanta] and so many companies are already here in town looking for talent. We want to be that diverse pipeline that is going to educate these students to be that talent that they need.” 

  • "Everything has to be deliberate and purposeful. You have to be deliberate in developing policies that invite female gamers. We’ve just recruited our first female gamer just recently and we’re getting her involved now. The partnerships have been most profound and illustrate that we aren’t just talking about careers, we’re making them happen. We’re connecting students to professors to learn business trends, tech and gaming, business management and more to get students ready."

    "Gaming is one of the few self-developed industries - kids start gaming, start developing skills, and when they reach college, they’re ready to solidify a role in the workforce, so it’s about soft skills - creativity, leadership, communication. It needs a holistic approach. We even have a student that’ll be the team massage therapist for our esports team."

    "The conversations have to be had. We’ve all seen the role of HBCU esports and gaming over the past year...part of it is just asking. Think about your needs and just reach out.”

  • “It’s [esports] truly an interdisciplinary studies experiential learning opportunity for students. This gives those students who may have not thought about going to college an opportunity to realize that I’m good at gaming. This is how we tempt students to realize you have something and sometimes, someone will see something in you that you don’t see in yourself and through gaming that allows us to tap into a student’s passion and purpose and they can find their niche so that they can become entrepreneurs and event tournament winners and make it lucrative for themselves.” 

    “At Bennett College, we’ll be looking at an interdisciplinary aspect where students can see through the arts, journalism, communications, English, what esports can do for them and for others.”

  • "We’re seeing a surge of students coming to us asking about esports, and yes, we have 'black girls can game.' There’s a perception that gaming and esports is just for guys--it’s for everyone. Here’s the surprising part: we have senior citizens coming to us about gaming! We have people coming from all fields, even agriculture. If this is going to be engrained in our regular program we need buy-in of everyone at the school. We make our program accessible to graduates, undergraduates, and the community at large."

    "In terms of academics...we established at Tennessee State University an esport advisory committee made of up of a representative from every one of our colleges. Every one of them. And you'll probably say, 'Even Ag?' I say yes, we have a representative from ag looking at DI spaces, and spatial relations, psychology, business, education, name it. Because if this is going to be ingrained into our regular program, we have to have buy-in from everyone." 

  • "We have different roles. We have producers. We have graphic designers. There are all kinds of implementations for a woman to get on board. It’s all about meeting these kids where they are.”

    "Gaming itself is bigger than the NBA, NFL, MLB, movies, and music combined...We have a nursing school involved with health and wellness, engineering department, law center, an agricultural department. We have committees and think tanks. We are going to implement these programs throughout the college.”

    "I envision using esports as a catalyst to build innovation hubs at HBCUs. What I would love to see and what we are planning on doing at Southern is having our students be the next publishers of game.”

  • “I’ve seen esports act in a way that they’ve not only used it as an outlet, but it allows them to overcome a lot of obstacles that they encountered within this year with all that has been happening with the pandemic and being able to master those things”

    "How we focus on directing towards development for an esports program was starting with having our unity authorized training partnership….The reason why that’s so important is because they’re not just getting certifications that will allow them to get jobs, they’re becoming unity certified instructors so that opens up a pathway for them to be able to have some type of entrepreneurial venture that they can do while they’re developing into the person that they’re trying to be with their career."

    “Anyone can play. Everyone is on the same playing field. It is the great equalizer. It is prime for inclusion, prime for diversity and being able to work together.”

Hosted By

Serious Games Initiative

The Serious Games Initiative communicates science and policy complexities through the world’s most dynamic medium: gaming.  Read more

Science and Technology Innovation Program

The Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) serves as the bridge between technologists, policymakers, industry, and global stakeholders.  Read more

Thank you for your interest in this event. Please send any feedback or questions to our Events staff.