Diversity in Esports: A Q&A with Ellen Zavian

August 19, 2019

Person playing an esports game with alternate reality glasses in front of a computer.

The esports industry is expected to exceed the billion-dollar mark in revenue this year as a burgeoning field for venture capital firms, sports celebrities, professional sports leagues, and even institutions of higher education.

Professorial Lecturer in Law Ellen M. Zavian is set to lead an esports and data science session at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week Conference in September. The conference will focus on enhancing HBCU competitiveness, and Ms. Professorial Lecturer in Law Ellen M. ZavianZavian is leading a session track that will explore how institutions and students could benefit from developing an esports program. A sports law expert, Ms. Zavian was the first female attorney/agent in the NFL, represented the US Women’s Soccer and Softball gold medalists and extreme athletes, collectively, and held the title of Commissioner for the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (NCAA). She currently teaches sports law for GW Law and GWU's School of Business and leads a sports law moot court team that competes at Tulane University every year.



Q: What interested you in exploring the esports industry?

EZ: In April, I wrote an article for the National Association of Corporate Counsel on the labor and employment issues in the esports industry. I found that people were writing about some of the issues athletes were facing, but nobody was looking at the industry as an ecosystem and how our laws were applying to this unique industry. For example, how do our laws apply to athletes who work online, where there are no borders. You have domestic laws on the employers because many of them as based in the US, but many of their employees could be based wherever they're playing in different parts of the US or even the world. I felt like somebody needed to give a baseline so as this sport evolves and becomes a part of the large landscape of sports, we're approaching these issues appropriately.

Q: Why is esports an important industry for HBCUs to focus on?

EZ: The esports industry is a burgeoning, billion-dollar field. It is a space where video games, players, fans, and prize money are converging into a new market. We know that STEM is being pushed in K-12 schools, and we know that robotics, coding, and data analytic clubs are very popular. Middle and high school students are playing, and we know they carry that interest with them to college. Historically Black Colleges and Universities should be looking at this as a recruiting tool for students, which in turn would create new groups of alumni and donors.

Q: What is the state of diversity in the esports industry?

EZ: The esports industry is desperately lacking in diversity, not just at the club level but at the professional level as well. During our sessions, we'll be presenting to the HBCUs that they can set up a club-level sports program that would allow them to recruit from high schools that are already doing coding and data analytic clubs. We'll also be presenting to them on how they can get in at the professional level by putting teams together and competing against each other. At the end of the day, both club and professional teams need diversity in race and gender because there are very few women and very few African Americans playing professionally. What better place to start tackling that problem than at HBCUs?

Q: What will you be sharing with HBCUs administrators at the conference?

EZ: We are going to walk college and university provosts through the specifics of starting an esports program. We'll be sharing with them how to create a data analytics component, recruit on behalf of the data analytics club, and eventually, creating a program or degree track. We'll also show them through how to set up club sports that will ultimately lead to creating professional teams. We're going to give them a turnkey approach to go back to their institutions and start launching this program.