Game Changers: #GameHer Founder and Cleveland Cavaliers Youth Basketball Coach Jessica Davis

There’s no doubt that esports will endure for decades to come, but the people running the industry in that far-flung future will look a lot different than they do today. We will see a lot more people of color and women in leading roles, as professional players, executives, and owners. 

The young people working and playing in grassroots, school, and collegiate esports right now will be the leaders of tomorrow’s industry, but someone needs to be doing the work of inspiring this new generation through a combination of education and representation. 

Representation really matters in educating children. When the person telling you about all the cool things you can do with your life when you grow up looks like you and is in a leading role, you get inspired. You believe that these possibilities are within your reach.

This groundwork for this is happening now, and is thanks in no small part to people like Jessica Davis, who are influencing and informing young people about the industry on several fronts. 

In 2013 she founded #GameHer, a company that gives women and girls a place to get together and celebrate their hobby through community, competition, and merchandise. But this is just a small part of what Davis does on a daily basis to reach this new generation of young people.

Where are all the females at?

Davis may have launched #GameHer in 2013, but the idea had been rattling around in her head for a very long time. She has been playing games since she was six years old, and for a good portion of that gaming life, she has been an avid Madden NFL and NBA 2K fan. But when she was younger she always found herself playing games with the men around her; her father, family members, male friends. She often wondered “Where are all the females at?” She couldn’t find any at the time, but she knew they were out there playing games just like she was. The data on gaming demographics even in the early 2000s showed that a good portion of the game-playing public was female. 

“#Gameher came out of nowhere, in 2013. My main two video games have always been Madden and NBA 2K and during the time that I was playing both games when online play wasn’t even a thing … so I was playing with all my guy friends, none of my girlfriends played Madden or NBA 2K, so I just kind of hung with the fellows.”

Davis built a website, Facebook, and Instagram pages in an effort to get the word out about her company, using what social media platforms she knew at the time.  She also created a merchandise line to provide clothing so that women could feel proud of their lifestyle. “Basically, if you see someone wearing Nike, Reebok, or new balance, it’s a conversation starter. So if you see somebody with #GameHer, that’s a big conversation starter because now you know that they probably have some affiliation with video gaming or they support the lifestyle, which is always good.”

One of the reasons Davis might not have been able to find women playing games online in 2013 (and even now) is because they were hiding in plain sight, beating men in online competitions but not revealing their gender due to concerns about being harassed. Davis thinks that the gaming and esports communities have come a long way in dealing with these issues since she first started playing online, but they still have a ways to go.

“I definitely think we still need to do some work because I have experienced it playing games. Guys talk trash, that’s just what they’re going to do; they say things that in their head maybe they don’t see it as coming off as mean, but it can be to someone who is not used to that kind of trash-talk. So, I do think we have a ways to go, but it’s definitely trending in the right direction. I just think the whole narrative is shifting.” 

Hearts and Minds

While her work at #GameHer is admirable, Davis’ efforts to enlighten young girls about the opportunities available now related to gaming, sports, sports business, and esports might be even more important. The reason she is so passionate about this is that when she was growing up she didn’t have anyone to enlighten her about all the opportunities that were available. Much of this work is done through her job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

“I run youth basketball operations at the Cleveland Cavaliers. I help run youth basketball programming all around Ohio and in the surrounding states,” Davis said. “We go to Buffalo, Pittsburgh, etc., and we run basketball programming year-round.” 

She also does community outreach through the Cavs to provide girls and their parents with information on career opportunities in the space.

“I also focus on our all-girls initiative where we’ll host all-girls summer camps and clinics. I also do panels just for girls giving them an experience that I didn’t receive when I was younger that talks about career opportunities.

“I try to show them [the kids] the broad range of jobs that are available to them, the career paths I didn’t see when I was growing up. And so that’s what I try to do; just give them a broad range of experiences about different things, to tell them ‘You can work in college basketball, Nike, the NBA, wherever.’”

The NBA 2K League Connection

Finally, in addition to her efforts with the Cavs youth programs and #GamerHer, Davis uses her extensive knowledge of NBA 2K to help guide the Cav’s NBA 2K League team, the Cavs Legion. Given that she has spent a very long time playing, she uses her deep understanding of the game to coach and mentor players, and generally guide the organization.

“Being that Cavs Legion is under our family of companies, I do a lot of work helping them out in any way I can, though youth basketball is my main focus. Legion came in-house in my first year with the organization. Once I found out about it, I was like, ‘Wow, NBA 2K, a game that I’ve been playing for all these years, and now it’s like becoming a professional thing.’ So I got involved with them from the jump. “

Davis has helped the organization during the team draft process on and off for several years, and regularly serves as an assistant coach, helping them out to improve performance. 

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