As gaming slowly grows further into the mainstream, the opportunities available to younger gamers grows with it. From the negative stigma surrounding games causing violence in youth, and the ludicrous ideas of games being played competitively for money, it’s certainly come a long way.
With the popularity, more students have begun developing their passion.
This is not something that went unnoticed by Kerry Daud, head of Faculty E-Learning, Research Technology and Design at St. Margaret’s Anglican Girls School.
In collaboration with Team Bliss, she organised an invitational to give girls from across Brisbane a sample of LAN competition. For a handful of the students, it was their first competitive gaming experience as a whole.
With fond memories of gaming including the likes of Donkey Kong and Game & Watch, Kerry is a lifelong gamer herself. Games were always a way for her to connect with other kids her own age as she moved from place to place — this is something she aimed to replicate amongst the girls at St. Margaret’s.
“We’re a boarding school as well as a day school. We have girls from a bunch of rural backgrounds, girls from international backgrounds, and a lot of them don’t get to go home on a day to day basis. A lot of their community is online,” Kerry told Snowball Esports.
As the head of E-Learning at St. Margaret’s, Kerry became “interested in ways to re-engage girls in the digital world,” stating, “the digital online ecosystem wasn’t something that got a lot of discussion.”
Although the girls enjoyed playing for fun on the Nintendo Switch, their interest in esports extended beyond the handheld console, with a majority favouring the competitive flavour offered in Overwatch and League of Legends.
“We only had about two gaming computers and they really wanted to play with other students,” said Kerry.
With the assistance of the librarian Anna and Jack from the school’s IT department to bring the project to life, the interest in the high school competition grew. Soon enough, the old photocopy room was equipped with ten gaming PCs now minted as their ‘esports room’ — and they were able to enter some tournaments.
“One of our concerns the parents had was: how do we ensure that the online chatter is safe? How do we ensure that the girls are cared for in that environment?
“Esports is an incredible field of sport — it has so many different skills that they’ll learn from logistics to problem solving. Even the actual communications and the teamwork that come into esports was something that we didn’t want our girls to miss out on because of those other narratives.
“One of the ways that we ensured our parent community that our girls were looked after was that we all played together in one place and that also meant that our boarders could be included as well.”
Additional facilities included two large screens to monitor Discord, and even an interactive whiteboard that they could use to draft up strategies. Unfortunately, they were unable to prevent some of the more ancient stigmas of online gaming coming into play as the girls competed.
“Occasionally a team would have a girl in it, but for a majority of the games that were played, the girls played against boys and they got a lot of ‘this is why girls shouldn’t game’ or they’d get asked out on dates,” said Kerry.
“Whilst some of this is fairly innocent, at the same time, the girls got frustrated by the fact they weren’t just seen as players. They were proud to play but they also felt that they didn’t get to play other girls and just compete in an environment where they could just be a team that was trying to develop their skills while having a good time.”
Despite “organisations doing their best to prevent it,” the “recurring pattern” was clear to Kerry and her company.
“It’s a hard culture to chip away at.
“What we wanted was to give our girls an environment where they could have conversations with the other team — where it could be competitive and constructive and they could build up a network of other female gamers.”
We got to the point that we decided: we seriously wanted to do this.
Introduced to the school through GameAware, Team Bliss had provided long term performance coaching and support for their competitive teams throughout their journey.
Kerry reached out to Brendan Harms, Team Bliss’ Chief Operating Officer, with a proposition to hire out the facility at Bliss HQ for a day to bring her Girls in Gaming vision to life. Ros Curtis, the principal of St. Margaret’s, was fully on board with the initiative, and extended personal invitations to the principals of neighbouring schools to get them involved.
And the result?
“We didn’t have a spare computer on the day,” said Kerry.
With games of League of Legends, Valorant, and Rocket League fired up for the day, high school girls from across Brisbane gathered at Bliss HQ to partake in the safe environment they had curated.
It wasn’t just experienced gamers either, as some younger students seized the opportunity as “their initial foray into gaming.”
“They were interested in it but didn’t know how to get involved, so when their school offered the opportunity, they took it,” said Kerry. “Bliss provided coaches for the different games to give advice. We didn’t want girls that had only just started gaming to think they were not welcome and included.”
With everything from hands-on scrims to slideshow presentations, the staff at Bliss didn’t hold back from delivering a day to remember. “The girls had a ball,” Kerry said. “They couldn’t believe that this was done for them — that their schools and the esports community had come together to provide them with this opportunity. They didn’t think that somehow they’d be recognised in that way. That’s a massive step for them as well.
“We want to give more girls the opportunity to have that all-girl environment; then, when they go into the non-gendered competitions, they’re more confident, they’re more practiced, they’ve developed their skills and can really give those competitions a run for their money.”
In the solace of this protected environment, these young gamers were able to find their footing in away from the typical toxicity of online play. Bliss created a space where some girls that had never really had a place to call their own, could finally feel at home.
“They love it and that makes it worth it every day; seeing girls that have never represented their school — whether it be due to physical reasons, or neurodiversity or interest’s sake — [finally] be in a team.
We’ve had parents in tears because they’re so happy that their child is in a team and feeling valued — that makes every second of it worth it.
“We also want to become more inclusive for students that are non-binary and identify with their genders in different ways because I think esports really can be a safe space for those students.”
With teams in women’s’ Rainbow Six Siege, and formerly Valorant, Bliss has been fully on board with supporting female rosters. Their R6 team took the Season 8 championship title in the Unstoppable Women’s League as recently as last week.
Brendan ‘brendypls’ Harms, one of the integral forces behind the event, told Snowball: “Women’s esports is super under-supported [in OCE] at the moment, but we’d like to support it however we can. Obviously, grassroots is a really good way for us to support girls in esports.”
“We’ve done a lot of school coaching but the Girls in Gaming event was the first of its kind for us. We want to support people in any of their pursuits that we’d love to facilitate however we can.”
Their partnership with GameAware has led to Bliss HQ coming together as a home for other programs that promote healthy gaming habits and lifestyle too.
“Bliss as a whole are entirely committed to helping the next generation of young gamers however we can. Whether that be through education or facilitating events,” Harms explained.
Aside from the competitive advantages from the Girls in Gaming initiative, Kerry has further thoughts about the other skills that could be grown: “All gamers demonstrate such a high level of cognition in terms of their multitasking.”
“I think it’s something that all kids should be involved in at some point to develop that level of spatial recognition and the ability to communicate and move in a completely new reality, so to speak. It’s got so much educational value that it really should be a part of all sports courses,” Kerry believes.
Following such a successful venture, the staff at St. Margaret’s have their sights set on expanding the high school girls’ league — and they’re planning on going interstate, floating the idea of the competition being hosted online, with semi-finals and grand finals held physically at Bliss HQ.
“We would love for other teachers to reach out to us or Team Bliss. We don’t mind whether you’re a girls’ school or a co-ed school,” said Kerry.
“For schools struggling to get girls involved, it’s about creating a space for female identifying or non-binary people to feel safe and secure, and then giving them the opportunities to compete in that environment.
“It’s a huge industry now. Even if they get into it just because they enjoy gaming, they begin to think about social media, digital animation, even the soundtracks that go with these games, the voice acting, the character design… it’s an incredible field for students to immerse themselves in at a young age because the potential, in terms of their career span, is quite significant.
“I think [the gaming industry] is incredible and that girls should be there at the forefront. We should be smashing that glass wall because if we don’t provide it in girls’ schools, they might not get the opportunity until it’s too late.”
With teachers being more open to progressive ideas such as diverse esports teams in their high schools, the St. Margaret’s staff along with Team Bliss facilitated an inclusive first look into the world of competitive gaming for these Brisbane students.
For a lot of them, this is their first step towards a potential lifelong love of gaming.
Even if you’re outside of Queensland, if you’re keen to get your school involved with Girls in Gaming for 2023, or if you have any general queries about bringing gaming to your school, Kerry and Brendan encourage you to get in touch with them.