Just Esports is an organization that is dedicated to working on justice initiatives in the esports and gaming space. Much of their work focuses on educational programs aimed at empowering others to promote justice in their respective groups and providing individuals with the best tools to build out esports communities that serve all people.
Just Esports began as some conversations between Jack Blahnik and Russ Hamer, who had worked together when both were at Illinois State University, Jack as a student and Russ as a philosophy professor. As Jack entered grad school and the conversations continued, both saw an increasing need for the esports ecosystem to improve in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. So, they decided to start their own org so that they could be a part of the solution. With Jack’s focus on esports programs and community development and Russ’ background in ethics and justice, the duo work to build better esports communities and invite more people into those communities.
Jack and Russ both recognized a number of problems that are facing the esports industry today. Esports is male dominated despite studies showing close to gender parity when it comes to video game demographics. This is the case not only in terms of pro players but also in terms of individuals working behind the scenes for various esports orgs, for collegiate programs and their teams, and in the high school scene. Esports also struggles with questions of access. In order to regularly compete you need a good internet connection and usually a PC that you don’t have to share with family members. Such a requirement limits esports participation to those in society with extra disposable income. Additionally, historically marginalized individuals are often unwelcome in esports and gaming communities. Esports communities in the US prioritize PC games and those games have audiences that trend white. Thus gamers of color are often left out of the conversation or considered not “real” gamers due to their platforms of choice. Given all of these issues, and hoping to make even the smallest of impact, Jack and Russ started working together to do what they could to improve the esports scene.
In line with their goals, their first project was a collegiate esports DEI handbook. They built a team that included Verta Maloney, John Cash, Kyra Wills-Umdenstock, and Julian Fitzgerald and together the group created a document that helps collegiate esports programs breed excellence and success by embracing DEI. They made this handbook free to download from their website (www.justesports.org) so that access wouldn’t be a problem for anyone. The handbook covers a wide variety of topics such
facility design, student behavior policies, student leadership and training, game and platform selection, and a variety of other topics that are all pertinent to a collegiate esports program. Just Esports also worked to make sure that this document was applicable to a wide variety of individuals and so they made different policy suggestions to student leaders, program directors, and upper administrators like Deans or VPs. There are lots of good resources that work to convince people that diversity, equity, and inclusion are important but unfortunately there aren’t many that are directed towards esports and the unique challenges that it faces. Just Esports worked to bridge that gap with a specific focus on the collegiate scene, as it’s the area that Jack and Russ are most familiar with. The handbook doesn’t merely convince its audience that DEI matter, it also provides concrete policy recommendations so that a well-intentioned but otherwise uninformed individual can improve their program immediately by adopting new policies that promote the interests of their historically
Having completed their Collegiate Esports DEI Handbook in June of 2021, Just Esports has now turned their focus towards new horizons. While the handbook will be something that they continually update, they’re now focused on exciting new projects. One of their projects aims to build connections and pathways for young people to enter into the esports scene at the professional level by providing a platform for students to present research, original ideas, and business pitches with corporate partners and academic leaders providing mentorship. They hope to provide youth with access to professional development opportunities to help grow our next generation of esports leaders without having to rely on paying dues to professional organizations or having the free time to go to networking events.
Just Esports exists so esports can be infused with justice and thus be something that benefits all of us and not just those who it currently privileges.