Technology Makes or Breaks Esports Programs
A growing number of schools are launching esports teams or programs to give student gamers a competitive outlet for their video game habits.
Esports leagues help turn a typically solo activity into a team experience that fosters collaboration and builds community.
The High School Esports League reports it now represents about 1,200 schools — up from 200 the year before. And the National Association of Collegiate Esports includes 110 colleges and member institutions.
MORE FROM EDTECH: See why educators embrace the benefits of esports.
Esports Equipment Can Support Other School Initiatives
In competitive gaming, milliseconds matter, and the technology supporting students can make or break an esports venture.
Schools looking to start their own programs may need to invest in gaming hardware and update network infrastructure to ensure adequate bandwidth and avoid lagging speeds and interruptions.
However, schools often can support esports programs with their existing IT, and can purchase esports equipment that will also support other uses in the school, such as a lab or virtual reality setup. My team has helped dozens of K–12 and higher education institutions set up similar projects and esports arenas.
My advice, always, to schools starting out is to ensure that all equipment and networking technology can support the speeds and processing the sport requires. That equipment typically can be used and enjoyed by other teams or by the school at large, so it’s important that you get the most return from every dollar spent.
For example, schools looking to bring VR equipment into the classroom often try to ensure the machines will also support an esports program. I’ve found that schools and districts take a number of approaches to getting started, depending on what’s available and how they plan to compete.
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Districts Find Creative Approaches to Launch Esports
Saddleback Valley Unified School District in California recently launched its own program after purchasing extra computer memory and upgraded video cards for its desktop computers. The district also adjusted its firewall to enable the games — “Overwatch” and “League of Legends” — to get past the district’s content filter.
“We did a lot of preplanning,” says Ozzy Cortez, CTO for the district. “It was a group effort to say, here’s this awesome opportunity, here are teachers who are willing to jump into this. And the student response was overwhelming. It was very exciting.”
Similarly, when it launched its own esports program four years ago, Oswego East High School in Illinois adjusted its firewall to whitelist video games to play on district computers after school hours. The student gamers compete using Dell OptiPlex 7020 desktop computers that are connected to the Ethernet.
Students who compete on the Fresno Unified School District’s esports team use MSI Trident 3 devices, supplemented by HP EliteBook 850 notebooks connected via Cisco 802.11ac wireless access points — all of which the district purchased before launching the program. The district also bought about 150 game licenses, which cost about $20 each.
Other districts have found creative ways to launch esports at their schools. At a high school in Ohio, students who participate in its gaming tournament are provided space and a screen, but use their own game systems and “Madden NFL 19” to play. The school is planning similar tournaments for “NBA 2K” and “Super Smash Bros.” And a school district in Texas has partnered with Microsoft and the University of Texas at Arlington’s esports program to launch its first esports tournament, which is scheduled for February.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.