BY COLLEEN PATTERSON

Keisha Howard is  a “closet nerd” who loves to play games. Well, maybe she used to be closeted. Today Keisha is the proud and popular founder of Sugar Gamers, an open community which curates events and advocates for all who find themselves underrepresented in geek culture.

“I’ve always been a nerd and into anime and video but I didn’t have any friends to play with,” she says, but that’s not why she founded her organization.

It’s 2009 and she’s landed an audition for the WCG Ultimate Gamer reality competition show. Keisha flies all the way out to LA from Chicago to show off her skills “but they tell me I’m not that great of a gamer, so I thought, ‘okay. I’m going to start my own thing.’”

Keisha is from Chicago. At the time of her abrupt rejection, the community gaming largely made itself home in LA, San Francisco, New York, Boston, or Seattle.

Back home, she decides to put together a team, thinking, “it would be cool is five or six chicks are interested.”

Hundreds of women turned up asking to join the community. They asked whether or not they were skilled enough; they expressed and interest in getting started for the first time and in finally finding an outlet for play.

“We’re like the Island of MisFit toys,” she says. “We’re a platform of support for everybody, from women in tech to people who don’t normally identify as gamers.”

It’s a much-needed space she’s carved out in a very heavily male-dominated industry which unfortunately lends itself to online-trolling and harassment which naturally deter minority players.

A post shared by Keisha (@sugargamer) on

Take for instance a recent study published last May, in partnership with Sony Entertainment and KingSoft titled, Do Men Advance Faster Than Women? Debunking the Gender Performance Gap in Multiplayer Online Games —an allusion to the popular (and preposterous) myth that men are inherently better at video games than women.

After analyzing the performance of more than 10,000 male and female players, scientists concluded total gender parity.  In other words: women are just as good as men.

Unfortunately, however, the very same study reported female players experiencing lower levels of confidence in their abilities.

That’s why Sugar Gamers is so relevant and important to its community members. Sugar Gamers is a place of empowerment and opportunity where contributors of types are represented equally.

Initially, Sugar Gamers as Keisha intended was to be a competitive gaming group in the same vein as PMS (Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers) Clan.

Soon, however, Keisha realized that she personally valued real-life interactions most and with that, Sugar Gamers mutated into a social group. The best resources, she points out are the people you meet and relationships that follow.

“It’s a good space to meet people,” says Keisha. “People have found jobs. You see a writer and an artist come together at an event and decide to create a comic book together.”

In the few short years since its conception in 2009, Sugar Gamers has been recognized by companies such as Twin Galaxies, featured in the Chicago Reader, and has received multiple awards for its positive contributions to the gaming and technology communities.

A post shared by Sugar Gamers, Inc (@sugargamers) on

Elsewhere, female gaming culture is likewise making progress—very cool progress.

Last month, a small women’s college in Missouri announced its intention to provide esports scholarships to its students. Next fall, Stephen’s College will begin competing in the the National Association of College esports.

President Diane Lynch told Polygon, she “watched her students fall in love with the multiplayer game Overwatch over the past school year [and] began to see it as a game that aligned with everything Stephens College strives to represent — and one that is just as competitive as any other esport.”

If anything, the move by Stephens College is a signal to its students to follow their passions. Keisha’s platform is one of a similar message.

“We live in a culture of instant gratification where too many people think that they need to be immediately successful or recognized or acknowledged, because that’s the constant image they see online,” says Keisha.

“It sounds cliche and may warrant a more involved response but you’ve got to remain diligent and flexible in how the process looks. Do whatever it takes to not get discouraged. Calvin Coolidge said, ‘persistence wins over everything else.’ Whatever you want to do, understand it’s going to take time.”

After deciding to put the majority of her energy and focus into Sugar Gamers, Keisha left her career as a real broker. Today, she’s self-employed, juggling speaking engagements with community events, and the occasional television appearance such as with SyFy Channel’s Robot Combat League.

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Colleen Patterson is the content marketing manager for Muses, the only digital growth app focused on building long­-term relationships. She’d love you to get involved.