Jul 21 2023

How to Build Your Higher Ed Esports Curriculum

Create a more comprehensive program by using esports to drive learning in a variety of fields.

There are three ways esports programs can be emphasized in a higher education setting: through competition, community and curriculum.

The three prongs represent the wide range of opportunities esports programs offer colleges and universities. And, as we’ve shared before, the most successful institutions find ways to incorporate all three. Even if esports started out at your institution strictly as a competitive program or simply as a gathering space for amateur gamers, the explosion of interest and investment has created a global industry worth billions of dollars that offers countless potential jobs for today’s college students.

In turn, colleges and universities have been increasingly focused on that third area: curriculum. If there are jobs to be had, higher education institutions have an opportunity and a responsibility to prepare their students for careers in that world.

Doing that, however, is not as simple as it might sound. A successful esports curriculum requires thoughtful planning, high-level collaboration and campuswide investment to ensure students are ready to hit the ground running after graduation.

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Build an Esports Roadmap for the Future

Creating and implementing a curriculum can be more complex than introducing competitive or community programs. For that reason, it’s essential to have a well-considered plan in place before you get to work.

We recommend constructing a roadmap to help guide the many decisions that must be made along the way while keeping an end goal firmly in mind. That means that choosing and understanding a final goal comes first, even before the roadmap is created.

READ MORE: Learn how to build a flexible and inclusive IT roadmap.

To do that, think critically about what you want your esports program to do. Is it to gain national exposure by boasting a competition team that contends for national championships? Is it to provide a jolt to enrollment by giving students access to one of their favorite recreational activities? Is it to pull students back to campus by offering them a benefit — like access to high-end gaming hardware — that can only be enjoyed in person? Is it to prepare them for careers in esports? Or is it some combination of those things?

Figuring that out is going to require listening to voices from all over campus. Those could include:

  • The admissions office, if the goal is recruitment
  • The athletic department, if a competitive team is part of the plan
  • Academic leaders, to prepare teaching and learning plans
  • The IT department, to consult on any needed hardware and infrastructure improvements

When everyone has assembled and you’ve outlined your goals, we suggest starting with curriculum. It’s a little more straightforward, relatively speaking, to select and install the tech inside an esports gaming space. What’s more difficult is figuring out how to build learning into gaming spaces and diagramming what will happen beyond those walls.

Incorporate Esports Across Campus to Maximize Learning

Standing up an esports curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean creating an esports major or minor, although it could. In most cases, the new curriculum will use esports to teach foundational skills in a number of different areas of study, like broadcasting, event management, software development or marketing.

That requires a strong working relationship among departments and a little time to work through course approvals, which could delay the final integration of this esports curriculum.

Then, when the roadmap is developed and the time comes to put your plan into action, we recommend starting small.

On the curriculum side, this could mean introducing things like microcredentials or other certifications or focusing on a single area of study, like broadcasting. This gives institutions the chance to “miss small” as they feel their way through the new offerings.

Once it is time to go bigger, the community of practice that may now exist on your campus through competitive or community esports programs can be the vehicle that drives curriculum. Competitive and community spaces can take on new purposes and be transformed into laboratories for practical learning and experimentation with the skills students are learning in the classroom.

DISCOVER: Find the right technology for your esports program.

In terms of the curriculum itself, it’s again worth remembering that this doesn’t have to be the introduction of a new esports major or minor. It’s more important to consider the transferrable skills students are receiving within the esports realm. Boasting a degree in esports may sound hip, but its limited scope could narrow job opportunities for the graduate, especially as their interests evolve during their career.

By contrast, a concentration on something like esports business management provides students a backbone in business management, something that’s applicable in countless careers. The same goes for areas like communications and broadcasting, marketing, and design.

If an institution has created and is following a roadmap for esports, it should be easier at this point to coordinate with different degree programs to talk about how the esports facilities and hardware you’ve invested in can be used as teaching tools. It also allows university administration to identify a specific subject area where these programs can be housed and help bring in, reassign or retrain faculty to provide instruction and support.

One last consideration should be what K–12 schools are doing, especially those districts that send large numbers of students to your institution. Esports has grown just as quickly in K­–12 as in higher education, and knowing what kind of instruction (if any) is being given to your future students is good starting point for your curriculum.

The team at CDW Higher Education, along with our esports vendor partner, Esports Integration, a Horizon AVL company, have experience building esports programs, including in curriculum development, and possess the expertise to help create your roadmap or help your team follow it to its conclusion.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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