Dec 23 2020

How to Create a Winning Esports Program During a Pandemic

Focusing on these tactics will help your competitive gaming platform thrive in the remote landscape.

You can’t look back on the 2020 school year without recognizing the massive — and transformative — impact of COVID-19. Across the country, school districts embraced remote learning environments and introduced metamorphic changes to the K–12 curriculum. However, the classroom wasn’t the only school function upended.

From senior prom and homecoming to football games and graduation, longstanding school year rites of passage were cancelled in an effort to protect children and communities from COVID-19. It’s an unfortunate reality: Lacking these activities, students miss out on valuable and long-cherished experiences — and, in some cases, important development opportunities. Still, while most extracurricular activities are on hold for the foreseeable future, many high school districts have found something that does work: esports programs.

Of all extracurricular activities, competitive gaming has particular potential to thrive in a remote landscape if we take the necessary steps to streamline its implementation. And even still, esports faces inevitable growing pains during this transition.

Schools must overcome a series of obstacles to ensure all players have access to essential equipment and a reliable internet connection if they want to empower their students to embrace esports. Here are three tips to support a successful and sustainable esports program, whether during the pandemic or after.

READ MORE: State-sanctioned esports events are on the rise. Here’s why it matters.

Strengthen a Sense of Community with Discord

Given current social-distancing requirements, in-person esports championships have largely been cancelled or moved online. While losing the excitement of in-person competitive play is disappointing, it’s also a chance to shift our focus to fostering a sense of community and building strong relationships in the remote environment. For example, teams can host virtual community nights, organize pickup games or watch events together through the Discord platform, which allows users to directly stream video, share screens and produce broadcasts.

Manage Internet Access and Distribute Essential Equipment

Two of the most significant barriers to remote esports participation are connectivity and equipment access. Lacking decent bandwidth, students cannot adequately compete in a remote environment. Equipment, of course, is equally important and can pave the way for a winning esports program. Desktops, monitors, mice, keyboards, headsets, graphics cards, furniture and audiovisual equipment are all critical to a player’s success. Lacking campus access, many school esports teams are sending equipment home with their players, particularly schools that had already made esports investments before the pandemic. It’s better, after all, to put that equipment to use remotely than to let it gather dust in a locked building.

While looking for esports equipment, it’s important that we don’t mistake luxury for necessity. In football, for instance, it’s all about getting every player in the right shoe. A $300 pair of designer running shoes will not serve you as well as a cheaper pair of football cleats. The same can be said for esports equipment. Don’t waste your money on expensive extras that don’t serve your ultimate purpose. Buy what you need and forget what you don’t.

Build a Curriculum to Drive Professional Development

Esports is the content that we build lessons around. Whether you’re engaging in a multiplayer game like League of Legends or managing a live stream with AV equipment, there are numerous opportunities for students to get involved and gain hands-on experience.

Esports programs are multifaceted and attract students with a wide range of interests, from sports management to social media marketing. Streaming, an integral part of the remote platform, helps students develop a tremendous number of soft skills, including project management and time management. To optimize professional development, build a curriculum that incorporates relevant lessons and promotes digital citizenship.

As Esports Evolves, What Lies Ahead for 2021?

As we look ahead to the spring semester, it’s difficult to predict what esports will look like and how the classroom will continue to change. In-person competitions and intramural clubs could make a comeback. Or, conversely, we could see a continued delay in returning to regular in-person activities, boosting the popularity of esports even further. Whatever lies ahead, the right strategy and preparations can ensure your esports program is ready.

MORE ON EDTECH: Academic, social boosts show esports are more than just games.

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