Orlando’s growing reputation as an esports hub is driven by innovative regional assets and a group of fierce female competitors changing the face of a historically male-dominated industry.

Thanks to its long history as the Leisure and Hospitality capital of the world, the Orlando region is home to an intersection of art, simulation, gaming and entertainment that fosters an environment ripe for innovation and collaboration. That environment cultivated regional assets including the headquarters for Electronic Arts and Full Sail University, leading Orlando to embrace esports (competitive video gaming) at all levels, including recreational, collegiate, and professional.

Sari Kitelyn, director of Esports and Project Development at Full Sail, launched the university’s collegiate esports team Armada. (Courtesy Full Sail University)

As a pioneer in the collegiate esports space, Full Sail University actively shapes the esports industry and creates a community that embraces the differences in each player thanks, in part, to its collegiate esports team, Armada, built and influenced by a few incredible women. Through empowering women in esports, Full Sail is changing the face of a historically male-dominated industry.

Director of Esports and Project Development at Full Sail, Sari Kitelyn, launched the collegiate team and created new opportunities in the esports landscape for students and the region. Due to her contributions to the esports community, she earned the title of eFuse’s “15 Most Impactful Women in Collegiate Esports.”

“Whether I am gaming with my son or in the esports arena with the Armada team, there is an incredible connectivity found in gameplay,” Kitelyn said.

“The common thread in esports is the collaboration and passion found within the gaming community.”

Sari Kitelyn, director of Esports and Project Development at Full Sail University
Shae "Shaezilla" Ryan on Full Sail University's Armada esports competitive gaming team
Content Creator, Shae “shaezilla” Ryan, streams game play as a staff leader of Full Sail’s Stream Team. (Courtesy Full Sail University)

Kitelyn was also instrumental in the development of “Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress,” the largest collegiate esports arena in the country and home to Armada, which opened in 2019 during the university’s annual hall of fame celebration. The unique venue features seating and structures with flexibility to support any kind of event, 10 million pixels of LED wall to support dynamic visual presentations and graphics, capacity for 500, and a concert-level PA system. Since its inception, the Fortress has hosted many events including a Call of Duty Collegiate Invitational, Red Bull’s Conquest Orlando Qualifier, NBA 2K League for “The Ticket,” and the 2019 Hearthstone Collegiate Championship Fall Finals to name a few.

“Armada is proud to be a part of a growing and thriving esports community within the nation, and right here in our state, we’re excited to support and collaborate within the collegiate community alongside friends and neighbors including UCF, FL PolyTech, FIT – who recently welcomed Dana Hustedt as its Esports Director – and many more,” Kitelyn said.

According to data from Women in Games, 1 in 20 women are involved in the esports industry. Although this number is quite low, it is gradually on the rise. Studies show that women comprise 30 percent of esports viewership and 35 percent of esport gamers. The breadth and depth of opportunities available in esports, especially for women, continue to broaden as the industry becomes more mainstream in the sporting and entertainment worlds.

There are opportunities accessible for the varying interest levels, ranging from business operations and content creation, to commentating, coaching, and even playing, there is a lane for everyone with a passion for esports. At Full Sail, women are leading in various positions including journalism, business operations, and video content creation. Here are a few who are changing the game:

  • Full Sail’s Brittney Carter finds new ways to build community engagement. She accomplishes this by creating dynamic and expertly produced video content as the Esports Content and Event Producer.
  • Tracy Wiu, Associate Director of Project Development, hosts esports events and streams with ease while managing projects, budgets, and supporting Full Sail students.
  • Content Creator, Shae “shaezilla” Ryan, streams game play as a staff leader of Full Sail’s Stream Team, produces a monthly twitch show called All Access, and hosts events to help elevate the esports community.
  • As the esports staff writer, Jess Reider produces the written content for Full Sail’s editorial and video web properties.
  • Social Media Specialist, Kayla Jean Mraz, curates the social media content for Full Sail’s Armada Instagram (@fullsailarmada) and Twitter (@FullSailArmada).
  • The Armada Club President and collegiate team captain, Megan “PeptoAbysmal” Danaher is also leading from the student side.
Orlando esports competitor Megan “PeptoAbysmal” Danaher is Armada Club President and collegiate team captain at Full Sail University
Armada Club President and collegiate team captain, Megan “PeptoAbysmal” Danaher competes in the Hall of Fame World’s Collide event. (Courtesy Full Sail University)

“Seeing the women of Full Sail, and the many other women doing great things in the industry is inspiring to witness.”

Sari Kitelyn, director of Esports and Project Development at Full Sail University

“Not only does it showcase the impact of persistence and purpose for current players, but it also reveals the limitless possibilities for future generations,” Kitelyn said.

As a region, Orlando is carving a space for esports tourism, with the Greater Orlando Sports Commission aiming to make Orlando the nation’s esports capital. In the last four years, Orlando has played host to numerous large-scale esports competitions including the MLS All-Star Week eMLS Challenge at Ace Cafe, Halo Outpost: Discovery at Orange County Convention Center and the Call of Duty World League Championships at Amway Center. Plus, top professional esports competitors also call Orlando home, with Douglas “Maloney45” Bendeck representing Orlando City Soccer Club in eMLS and the FIFA 21 Global Series and Point guard Brendan “Reizey” Hill leading Orlando Magic esports team Magic Gaming to a strong season finish in the NBA 2K League.

According to the Global Esports & Live Streaming 2021 Marketing Report, global esports revenue will surpass $1.08 billion in 2021. And the Orlando region is a natural fit to capitalize on this trend, given its international talent pool of software engineers, digital designers and animators drawn to the region for its world-class legacy of hospitality and entertainment and ties to NASA and major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

With these assets, the Orlando region’s reputation as an esports hub is sure to grow as the industry continues to grow. And Orlando’s women in esports will be leading the way.