Field trip to Las Vegas esports arena opens eyes of middle school girls to future careers

Valeria Falcon, left, a Roy Martin Middle school student, tries out “Fortnite,” an online video game, during a Battle Born Girls Innovate tour at the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.

As they played the popular video game "Fortnite" at the HyperX Esports Arena on Wednesday, middle schoolers Sasha Lira and Ruby Ramirez didn’t seem especially interested in pursuing careers in esports.

Lira would like to someday be a veterinarian. Ramirez has thought of becoming a nurse.

The fact that neither Roy Martin Middle School eighth-grader expressed interest in someday working in the esports field, however, probably didn’t come as a shock to organizers of Wednesday’s Battle Born Girls Innovate outing at the arena at the Luxor.

Created only a few weeks ago, the Battle Born program is the brainchild of Shekinah Hoffman, a doctoral candidate at UNLV and a special projects coordinator with the school’s International Gaming Institute.

Battle Born Girls Innovate

Roy Martin Middle school students Jaelina Richardson, left, and Alaysia Brown play Fortnite, an online video game, during a Battle Born Girls Innovate tour at the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas in the Luxor Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Battle Born Girls Innovate, an educational program for middle and high school girls, was founded by the UNLV International Gaming Institute. Launch slideshow »

The goal of the program is to introduce young women to careers that require science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) skills. Esports careers, Hoffman said, certainly fall under that umbrella.

“Middle school is when you start thinking about what you want to be when you grow up,” Hoffman said. “I think a huge part of STEAM is esports and how that’s fitting into the hospitality world. That’s why we’re here.”

After getting a tour of the 30,000-square-foot nightclub-turned-esports arena, student Natalia Muriithi was impressed. Muriithi, 13, isn’t a gamer, but she knows that she’ll need some STEAM-related training to attain her goal of one day becoming a dermatologist.

“There’s not a lot of women in these types of industries, so things like this can empower us and uplift us,” Muriithi said. “This place is really cool. I can see how people would enjoy being in this industry and maybe I would someday.”

After the tour, the Battle Born girls listened to speakers Yzzi Ocampo, a UNLV gaming community veteran, and Brett Abarbanel, director of research for UNLV’s International Gaming Institute. Then, they took their turns playing at one of the many arena gaming stations.

“Young kids love to play these games, but they often don’t realize how many jobs there are creating these games and venues,” Hoffman said. “You have lots of people in this field who are engineers or they’re in math-based careers. This is about breaking the perception that (video games) are fun to play, but it’s not something that a young person can pursue as a career.”

As the popularity of esports has grown in recent years, corporations, investors and professional sports leagues like the NBA have followed the money trail.

HyperX officials said competitions and tournaments are held nearly every day at the arena.

For the most successful esports players, it can be a lucrative career, but Hoffman said there’s still a gender gap in the industry.

“In playing the games, it’s actually 50-50 between males and females,” Hoffman said. “Where the divide starts to happen is when you get into competitions and when you think about working in that industry. It becomes very male-dominated, but I think that can change. It starts with awareness.”

It’s Hoffman’s hope that Battle Born — which is gaming-industry funded — and other programs like it can aid in that change.

It could also be a way, she said, for Las Vegas resort companies to connect more with the ever-coveted millennial demographic.

“In Las Vegas, esports is an untapped market,” Hoffman said. “A big question for the gaming industry always seems to be the (worry) that millennials and Generation Z don’t like slot machines and gambling. Well, this is something they like to do, so this is something they might be able to monetize.”

For young teens like Lira, career ideas may come and go before it’s time to actually make a choice. Even then, it’s common for people to have several careers during their lifetime now.

While playing "Fortnite" — she obviously knew what she was doing — Lira said she’ll probably leave video games in the fun category while she eventually pursues other career options.

But then, perhaps the entire point of Wednesday’s field trip was more about the fact that a career in esports didn’t seem like a ridiculous idea.

“I like to play for fun,” Lira said. “But this is a good experience. I’m happy we came here.”