With a $1 billion market, esports programs at K–12 schools and colleges or universities offer innovative ways to reach students in a tech-rich era. A growing number of K–12 schools are establishing esports programs, and universities are offering top players thousands of dollars in scholarships, but misconceptions persist about competitive video gaming in an educational setting.
MORE FROM EDTECH: Want to start an esports program at a K–12 school? Get tips at edtechmag.com/StartEsports.
Fallacy: Esports Are Just a Passing Fad
With the current mainstream media buzz about esports, some people may not realize competitive computer gaming started in the 1950s. Another fact: The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory organized the first official esports video game tournament in 1972, which brought players together to battle in a sci-fi rocket combat game called Spacewar. Since then, access to personal computers and the internet as well as other advancements in technology have supported esports’ growth into a substantial industry with professional teams, high-stakes competitions, team sponsorships and more.
If the history of esports doesn’t indicate its staying power, the modern-day explosion of esports should. Researchers anticipated the global esports market would reach $1 billion in 2019, and project that by 2021, the number of esports viewers will eclipse that of all other major U.S. sports leagues except the NFL.
Consider the esports boom in K–12 education too: Some school districts report that students are choosing esports clubs over more traditional sports such as football and basketball. More than 1,200 high schools participate in the High School Esports League.
Fact: Esports Investments Benefit the Whole School
Through esports, students learn digital citizenship, team building, leadership and life skills aligned with academic areas. General skills such as problem-solving learned in an esports environment easily translate to other disciplines.
Universities and colleges seeking to improve their esports programs recruit top players from high school. At least 50 U.S. colleges offer esports players scholarships ranging from $500 to $8,000 per year.
The benefits of such investments aren’t limited to esports. Schools’ infrastructure improvements that benefit esports typically help other academic areas too, such as science, technology, engineering and math labs. Esports also is a way to foster inclusion among under-represented populations in STEM, as well as those who might lack interest in traditional sports or the physical ability to participate.
MORE FROM EDTECH: Esports Clubs Expand Learning Opportunities for K–12 Players.
Fallacy: Esports Is Exclusive or Isolating for Students
A common concern is that esports can be highly individualistic, leading students to choose a computer screen over socializing in person. But gaming is often social. A Washington Post-University of Massachusetts Lowell poll released in 2018 found that more than half of teens or young adults play or watch games with friends they know from other activities.
The projected number of frequent esports viewers globally by 2022
Source: Statista, “Esports Audience Size Worldwide From 2012 to 2022, by Type of Viewers (in Millions),” August 2019
Esports programs are further changing this stigma by making gaming a social experience, bringing student gamers into the same room and often requiring collaboration to accomplish goals. As a result, coaches and teachers report increased levels of teamwork and student involvement from the participants. Students participating in esports often show growth in confidence and social skills, increased feelings of acceptance and higher engagement in school overall.
Fact: Esports Can Provide Career Paths for Students
Through esports, students can develop STEM skills in topics such as coding, data analytics, probability and math. For example, players calculating the best way to defeat an opponent or the rate of return in purchasing game items to help their avatar are making quick mathematical decisions. Students who find this portion of the game enjoyable are more likely to seek out more opportunities and, ultimately, a career in which such strategizing skills are useful.
Successful esports programs start with giving schools access to the right technologies and infrastructure for the digital era. This means meeting performance demands for high-resolution images and seamlessly delivering high-quality, uninterrupted gaming. Investing in educational esports and the technology to support successful programs will inspire confidence, team building and the exploration of new career paths.
The esports industry helps students build skills toward career paths in “shoutcasting” or announcing, set building for esports arenas, coaching, social media management and business management. Individuals with gaming experience are often in demand as gaming consultants and developers.
There’s also the path of professional gaming. Esports generate professional gamers whose average monthly earnings range from $1,000 to $5,000, with prizes reaching $100,000 to $200,000 for a single victory. But, as in traditional sports, most players don’t make it to the pros. That’s why the other benefits, such as improved STEM skills, matter most to typical students.
As the esports industry continues to grow, schools should be encouraged and supported as they incorporate another means of student engagement and success. It’s one more example of how technology can empower students by letting them progress and learn in a personalized way.