Mar 19 2020

Solidifying a Place for Esports in the Classroom

K–12 and college course trends reinforce the idea that video games and education don’t have to exist in silos.

There’s no denying the popularity of the global, billion-dollar esports industry.

The number of frequent esports viewers is projected to reach 297 million in 2022, more than five times the number in 2012, according to Statista. The numbers are even higher when occasional viewers are factored in, bringing the total number of projected viewers to 644 million.

Compare that to this year’s Super Bowl, which had just over 102 million viewers. We’re now living in an age where actual sports are taking a backseat to the virtual version.

But that popularity doesn’t always erase skepticism over what place competitive video game programs should have in education. What value, if any, does esports bring to the classroom?

The answer to that question is taking shape both in the U.S. and internationally as sanctioned high school programs create solid pathways to college and careers. Globally, educators are intentionally leveraging students’ interest in gaming to boost engagement, forge relevant connections to emerging careers and reinforce lessons of digital citizenship as well as social-emotional learning.

Clear Paths from the Gaming Arena to the Workplace

The benefits students enjoy in school-based programs underscore the reality that esports is about more than just indulging kids’ enthusiasm for playing games.

Students participating in esports can gain real-world experience that helps them qualify for internships or jobs. They also see firsthand how esports ties into a broad range of careers. That’s true at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.

As the British Esports Association notes, participating in esports can spark or strengthen students’ interest in emerging, technology-driven careers. And just like there are high school football players that dream of making it to the NFL, there are those students determined to go pro as a gamer. As esports organizations across the globe can attest, there are numerous other esports-related careers, such as working as a referee, coach, recruiter, product manager or event manager. There also are opportunities in marketing, sales, web development and design — skill sets that are applicable across multiple career paths. Esports isn’t just gaming; it develops skills for STEM opportunities and careers.

Educators hoping to start career-focused esports programs already have some helpful resources to explore. The North America Scholastic Esports Federation supports participating clubs with workshops on topics such as shoutcasting (announcements) and tournament management. One of the federation’s local affiliates, the Florida Scholastic Esports League, provides career and technical education options for middle and high schools. And officials from Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida stressed how, through the district’s new esports pilot program, they encourage students to be producers instead of players and consumers.

Scholarships aren’t just for gamers, either. There are emerging opportunities for students to earn esports scholarships and complete esports courses in college. In the U.K., Staffordshire University launched bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that primarily focus on esports marketing and management skills, according to the Associated Press. Last year, the university expanded that to London.

Closer to home, The Ohio State University is slated to launch an esports and game studies undergraduate major that ties games to health and medicine. Other universities in the U.S., U.K., Singapore and China also offer either degrees or individual courses. Those are just a few of a growing number of examples.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how K–12 schools can start an esports program.

Esports Help Students Collaborate and Be More Empathetic

Educators involved with esports programs often note how the programs foster collaboration and teamwork, boosting student inclusion and engagement. And while esports programs typically involve secondary and college students, there are opportunities to engage even the youngest learners.



Anaheim Elementary School District in California has an esports program that emphasizes social and emotional learning. The nine-week curriculum, called Nurturing Positive Competitors, includes lessons on healthy competition and positive citizenship values, as well as opportunities for students to design team logos, produce videos or explore shoutcasting. The program also encourages students to explore esports-related careers.

“Our students live in the epicenter of where the top technological and gaming companies are located, and our schools are committed to preparing them with the skills and knowledge to be ready for those coveted jobs,” Superintendent Chris Downing said in a news release.

Tying esports to CTE, social-emotional learning and academic degrees supports the legitimacy and longevity of the industry. Giving students the opportunity to volunteer at tournaments, organize events or take advantage of other similar experiences is a way to give them real-world experience that could help them land internships and jobs.

These efforts also foster students’ progress toward career and educational opportunities that may not yet exist, and that future-focused goal is the same one educators have when encouraging students as early as elementary school to learn to code or to create in makerspaces. In the end, the students benefit from having their interests reflected in what they learn and by exploring a new world of opportunities.

This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

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