ICE 2019: What Does It Take to Start an Esports Team?
All it takes to kick off an esports team in a K–12 school or district is a dedicated internal champion, proponents advised this week at the 2019 Illinois Computing Educators conference.
“You need passion, organization, a lifelong learner,” said Joe McAllister, CDW•G learning environment advisor, while presenting on the topic at ICE’s annual event. “Nothing requires you to be an expert in the game itself.”
An esports internal champion should plan to run the games, structure practice and review game film, and potentially learn new skills like supervising streaming gameplay on social media.
“I work with folks across the country to help them with their programs,” said McAllister, who has interviewed more than 40 esports coaches through the course of that work.
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Start Esports Programs by Engaging Stakeholders
No team can move forward without engaging key stakeholders, McAllister advised. Who are they? Administrators, IT and parents, “are the people who need to get on board with esports so we can reach even more kids on campus,” he said.
One typical challenge that tends to worry administrators is the type of games students may play. A common misconception is that all video games are shooting games, but the most popular esports games are actually “ League of Legends,” “Smite” and “Rocket League,” which lack a shooting perspective, McAllister said.
Support from IT is crucial to the success of any esports team, he added.
“Help IT understand what needs to be changed,” including specific ports and access to gaming sites, McAllister advised. For example, IT might need to adjust a firewall to whitelist games so that they can be played on school computers.
Make it clear to parents that esports is an opportunity to reach even more students on campus, especially those not drawn to other athletic competitions.
“We’re starting teams as an outreach program and doing this for career readiness. There’s even scholarship money available,” McAllister said.
Choose the Appropriate Esports Playing Field
More than 1,000 clubs now compete nationwide. Team leaders or advisers must decide whether a team will play in a state, national or international league. The High School Esports League offers the most options by far, including tournaments, twitch.tv broadcasting incentives, curriculum and more, McAllister said.
The North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) provides free membership. PlayVS lets any students in Illinois compete against each other and scrimmage against players in any state. The Illinois High School Esports Association charges teams to participate but sponsors an unofficial championship at Robert Morris University Illinois’s downtown Chicago campus.
Whichever league a team ultimately joins, advisers should ensure it’s beneficial for the students.
Ensure Teams Can Access the Right Equipment
Once team leaders gain support to bring an innovative and advantageous organization to your campus, get IT’s help in advancing up from traditional workstations, McAllister also advised. Typically, that means installing an updated graphics card, or putting everyone in uniforms. Athletes can’t participate without the proper equipment, he said.
If a school already has STEM space available, putting esports-ready PCs, monitors, peripherals and audiovisual extras into play shouldn’t be a problem. If not, look to set up the appropriate environment through a STEM initiative. Take advantage of the potential of such a dual-purpose space, “and the multiple things we can do with that space,” McAllister said.
Open Lines of Communication to Get Stakeholders on Board
Any other people in a school community — namely administrators and parents — should understand up front an esports team’s goals, what the team is trying to accomplish and why. As NASEF’s mission states, esports “provides opportunities for all students … to acquire critical communication, collaboration and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life.”
One way to foster such understanding is to set up an informational meeting for parents, allowing them to ask questions and review supporting information. Send home permission slips requiring their signature of approval in order for students to participate.
McAllister recalled one school that had enough budget available to start an esports league, but asked the students to raise the money themselves as a way of proving they were serious about the games.
Certainly, the first step in creating an esports team requires a team champion to take the initiative to create one and give students the opportunity to excel, he said.
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