Varsity Esports has arrived at Lawrence Tech and Head Coach Danielle Sirekis leads the way in the success and verticle growth of the program. LTU is making its debut in college esports this fall with players fielded across seven high-profile games, including Overwatch, Valorant, League of Legends, and more.
Yet the success of student-athletes is gauged both academically as well as a part of competitions. Sirekis spoke to us about the challenges of managing so many esports teams, the direction she wants to see the program take, and what it means to be a female video gamer on a competitive and casual level.
Q: Esports are developing on a collegiate level today and this good news for us esports buffs. Can you tell us a little more about Lawrence Technological University’s varsity program and your involvement with is as the Head Coach?
A: First, I think it’s important to know a little bit about Lawrence Tech to understand the direction the varsity esports program is taking. LTU is a small, private university that is well known for its engineering, architecture, and computer science programs. The students coming to LTU should always have a priority of education first and extracurriculars second. We want to make sure that the students coming here to play esports also fit with Lawrence Tech. The success of the program is directly measured by the success of our student-athletes.
I’m creating a program from the ground up and want to give students a place to belong. We are competing in our first year this Fall 2021. We are competing across 7 different titles. The titles are rapidly growing, but we are currently planning on Rocket League, Overwatch, League of Legends, Valorant, CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, and Smash.
“I’m creating a program from the ground up and want to give students a place to belong.”
I’ve been recruiting many existing LTU students, some a part of the club team and some who just enjoy esports and have a passion for video games. I’ve been really fortunate that LTU is fully supporting the rapid growth and my decision making along the way. We have a dedicated esports facility on campus that is open to the esports team to practice and in their skills.
It’s really amazing to be a part of a brand new program and to help carve out its place at the University. We had a goal of building a roster of 25 by Fall 2021, and we have exceeded that goal. The first year will be a learning experience, and I’ve expressed that to our athletes that have joined. This is an adventure, and I will need their help for input and change to make this program successful and long-lasting.
Q: How did you get involved in esports and what are your favorite esports titles to date?
A: I’ve been involved with video games since I was a child. I was playing competitively with other students at my high school — it just didn’t have the title of esports at the time. I continued to play multiplayer games with friends because I enjoyed their company, and I usually was one of the better players.
Prior to my coaching position, I was a patient advocate in the emergency room and was looking to make a career move but didn’t know where to turn. I had prior experience as a coach in swimming and loved mentoring people. I just couldn’t work at a hospital and coach swimming at the same time, since the 12-hour shifts made it difficult. I had a friend bring the position to my attention and asked if it would be something I was interested in. I don’t think I even gave it a second thought before applying because it was 2 things I loved brought together in one career.
I have a few titles I enjoy playing and then a few I enjoy watching. I enjoy playing PUBG, but it hasn’t really got a large following anymore, and COD: Warzone because my friends play it. I enjoy watching Rocket League and Madden the most of all. Watching Overwatch has grown on me, but I would prefer to play it.
Q: Do you find yourself challenged coaching teams across a variety of games that you may feel are a bit unfamiliar at times?
A: I would be lying if I told you it’s not challenging and a learning experience. Though we are competing with different titles, each student needs to have the same common practice of effective communication and learned patience. I wanted to pursue titles that the students were interested in and not the titles that I’m specifically interested it.
This is ultimately about them and their experience in their esports career. There is a balance though. Other universities have to be competing in those titles to have competitions. I’m looking for strong team captains and students who have experience in those titles. Eventually we will be hiring assistant coaches that specialize in specific game titles. I want to develop the team dynamic, become a cohesive group, and promote effective communication styles, as well as establish what it means academically to become a student athlete.
Q: Do you reckon esports titles today are too male-centric and do you think there are more games out there that are worth including on a collegiate esports level but haven’t been included yet?
A: Games are extremely male-centric but personally that bothers me less then the culture that games breed. The vocabulary and toxicity can be very alarming and aggressive most of the time. I think this tends to be more of the reason that women shy away from playing or even speaking in lobbies.
“I want to develop the team dynamic, become a cohesive group, and promote effective communication styles, as well as establish what it means academically to become a student athlete.”
I play a game to decompress and for pure enjoyment; I don’t play to be verbally assaulted or pursued. It seems to be the same behaviors over and over again. I’m a little bit more outspoken then many females are, but there are plenty of women who would never speak in game for fear of being attacked or unwanted advances.
There are so many titles that are in esports right now, I think it’s going to continue to change each year. I wouldn’t mind seeing Unreal Tournament resurface. That’s a game I grew up playing and found to be so much fun.
Q: What are your thoughts in terms of male-female ratio of esports players on a collegiate level? Are they balanced or do esports still appeal better to male players and fans?
A: The previous answer still applies to this question. There needs to be more women in esports but that will never happen unless we collectively change our behaviors. We are in a cycle of teaching younger generations that certain behaviors are acceptable online. In reality, it’s not okay to call anyone names or be inappropriate.
Until we change that behavior, unfortunately, I don’t know that the ratio will change by much. I know myself and most other coaches do not support toxic behavior and are trying to create a safe place for women. I think it all depends on the person if esports is appealing to them. The main thing is some of the vocabulary in games could be different, for example in COD: Warzone before your drop in the dialog says, “Alright Boys.” I get a chuckle out of it pretty much every time.
Q: How do we get more girls involved in esports?
A: Aside from changing the toxicity and treatment of women when playing games, I would say show more strong female representation. I personally sought out other women that were coaches or in esports to relate to or understand what it was like to be a woman in this space. In the process, I have become very close to another female coach. She is someone who also wants to promote change for women who I could relate to on another level.
I think it’s important for younger women to see strong female role models who want to help them grow and share their experiences while supporting and promoting each other. I knew that I wasn’t alone with the way I was being treated, but it felt like a weight was lifted hearing another woman talk about it. I appreciate any person supporting and helping foster change, but I think it will help hearing it from someone who directly experienced the behaviors.
Sure, everyone has experienced toxic behavior, but not many can say they know how it feels to be belittled and inferior doing something they enjoy simply because they weren’t the typical person who plays video games. I hope that more platforms will cover this subject and talk about women in esports and games. These are your sisters, daughters, and mothers being treated this way, and they may not verbalize the way they are treated while playing games. Promoting change will help more women to get involved and allow other women to know they are not alone.