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The future of esports is bright—especially for women

Gaming host Rosemary “Nekkra” Kelley and NBC News’ Simone Boyce explain how women and veterans are embracing and shaping the world of esports.
NBC News' Simone Boyce, left, and esports personality Rosemary "Nekkra" Kelley, right.
NBC News' Simone Boyce, left, and esports personality Rosemary "Nekkra" Kelley, right.Know Your Value

The global esports industry is rapidly growing with revenue topping $1 billion in 2019, up 27 percent from the year before. And women are increasingly seen as a driving force behind the rapid acceleration.

Esports, described as multiplayer video games played competitively for spectators (typically by professional gamers) often exudes the same energy, excitement and fandom that fills the stands of a rock concert or a traditional sporting event.

The world of esports is also opening a door to men and women who might not have felt at home in the traditional sports arena and is providing an inclusive space where they can thrive, compete and pursue careers. It’s also creating a space that’s increasingly approachable for women.

Comcast NBCUniversal’s Military & Veteran Affairs recently hosted a business forum in Philadelphia featuring a panel discussion among leaders from Comcast, the U.S. Army and Harrisburg University. Speakers explored how each entity is incorporating esports into its business model and initiatives. For example, Comcast plans to unveil a new esports initiative in 2021 and the U.S. Army is incorporating esports in recruiting, providing a stress relief and is even launching its own competitive team.

“We’ve had a big commitment to hire 21,000 veterans by 2021, and the Army has recently set up an esports team, so this was an opportunity to pull a business forum together to highlight what’s going on from a business perspective and from a military perspective,” Rebecca Gray, executive director of Comcast NBCUniversal Military & Veteran Affairs and a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. “We as a company have an opportunity to make sure it’s an inclusive and connected environment.”

“The VA has shown studies that engaging in esports lessens PSTD, improves camaraderie and is very beneficial for mental wellness,” said Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Carol Eggert, senior vice president of military and veteran affairs for Comcast. Eggert wanted to showcase to the business community what esports means to Comcast and the future it holds for not only men, but women as well. “I have high hopes for women moving into the gaming space,” she added.

Freelance esports personality Rosemary “Nekkra” Kelley, a broadcaster for The Pokemon Company International, shared her experience during the forum. While Kelley’s love for gaming took a backseat in college, she revitalized her passion for gaming after graduating. “It brought me so much happiness,” she said.

While professional gaming has attracted few females today, Kelley believes the future is bright for women in esports.

“I hope that in the future women are a more accepted part of the space, and I think that starts with everyone coming together and making that space more approachable,” Kelley said. “Leagues and gaming companies are doing a lot in order to expand opportunities for women to approach this space in gaming.”

NBC News’ Simone Boyce explained that the fandom is what’s truly driving the esports community. “I’m such a fan of the fandom,” she said. “When you attend an esports event, you see how genuine it is. Everybody has a story about why they game.” Boyce believes that as esports takes off and sets becoming more impressive and over the top, at its core it’s still a deeply personal experience for all involved. “It’s still something very personal and intimate for a lot of people,” Boyce said.

“If I had one thing to say to women who wanted to work in esports or the gaming space… just do it,” Kelley added.