The Esports Roundtable: Shahneila Saeed, UKIE and Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, Space Ape

The Esports Roundtable is back with a bang, with host Joe Hills being joined by Shahneila Saeed, Head of Education, UKIE and Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, Community Lead, Space Ape. This week, the focus is on the Digital Schoolhouse National Esports Tournament and diversity in gaming.

Shahneila Saeed
Shahneila Saeed

Saeed kicks things off by explaining how she got to the position she’s in now – did you know she’s a teacher by trade? Her path to working at Ukie, the leading trade body for the games and interactive entertainment industry in the United Kingdom, was a great way to prepare her for the gaming industry.

Mensah-Bonsu meanwhile has a journalistic background, working in print and TV for a handful of years before moving over to Space Ape (accidentally). With her first gaming venture including working for Xbox, Mensah-Bonsu walks us through the rest of her journey that got her to this point.

Once the introductions are all done and dusted, the topic swiftly moves on to how the two esteemed guests met at a Ukie event. From there, the National Esports Tournament becomes the subject of the discussion, starting with its humble origins in Slough. The biggest esports competition for schools in the UK, the tournament has now reached 31 schools and has well over 1,000 competitors. Mensah-Bonsu told Esports Insider: “The DSH tournament is such a wonderful opportunity to facilitate play-based learning and spark interest in the next generation of leaders of our industry. My school Townley Grammar has a large percentage of girls and it was great to speak to them to let them know that gaming is for everyone. There are so many opportunities here that everyone should be exposed to, regardless of their background.”

Deborah Mensah-Bonsu
Deborah Mensah-Bonsu

Both Saeed and Mensah-Bonsu provide a lot of insight regarding what it’s like being a woman in the gaming industry, where it’s predominately filled with males. Perhaps the biggest food for thought is the mention of there being no need for esports to be exclusive when it comes to mixing male and female competitors. Unlike in traditional sports where physicality comes into play, esports is all about the mind and the hands – that’s it.

This, of course, is slowly becoming a reality with Kim “Geguri” Se-Yeon recently signing for the Shanghai Dragons to compete in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. Mensah-Bonsu thinks the National Esports Tournament provides a great opportunity for kids to realise and recognise the roles in esports outside of being a professional gamer, whether it’s being a coach or a manager.

Joe Hills, LFG and The Esports Roundtable
Joe Hills, LFG and The Esports Roundtable

Joe Hills, Founder and Host of the Roundtable podcast commented on this episode: “Diversity is a topic that most will dodge when it comes to taking a deep dive into the details. Esports has a problem and the industry needs to work out how to engage all the community to create equal opportunities for all to learn, grow and succeed in an area of passion. The National Esports Tournament is a fantastic national example of steps being taken in the right direction and I can testify to how the students involved are being inspired by the opportunities to play and organise the tournament in their schools: regardless of gender, race or class.

“Gaming connects people from all creeds and classes. Be it sharing the journey of a fantastic single player RPG like The Witcher 3 or competiting against each other in CSGO, the gaming community is truly global and accessible to all.”

Hills is the Founder of Looking for Group, an esports executive recruitment company and has worked to achieve placements for many high profile individuals in the burgeoning esports industry.