Jul 02 2020

Ensuring Esports Programs Are Equipped for Success

Esports offer K–12 schools a social distancing-friendly extracurricular activity and require investments in equipment, culture and processing power.

Widespread mobile device adoption and on-demand connections — combined with spending on emerging network technologies such as Wi-Fi 6 and 5G — have helped esports shift into mainstream K–12 school communities.

The High School Esports League serves more than 2,100 partner schools in the U.S. and Canada, reaching more than 60,000 students, according to its website. The North America Scholastic Esports Federation, which had 135 affiliated clubs in 2018, now lists on its website more than 850 spread across all 50 states and Canada.

Another sign of esports’ booming popularity: More than half of the country, either officially or unofficially, has some kind of statewide high school competition.

“A year ago, we wondered if esports were just a niche thing,” says Michael Harrison, director of public sector sales and marketing for Intel. “Now, high school teams are getting varsity letters. Universities have shifted from doing it ad hoc to moving into a sanctioned space, creating teams and offering scholarships.”

But it takes more than great gamers dominating in Dota 2 or crushing the competition in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to support esports programs. K–12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, also need the IT backbone to create digital content on demand, capture fan attention with real-time color commentary and stream live competitions at scale.

DISCOVER: Find the right technology for your esports program with Intel.

The College Esports Boom Spreads to High Schools

Colleges and universities are “running programs that are sanctioned and fully supported,” Harrison says. “They’re adding services with custom esports fields and asking Intel for help to get started.” For example, the University of Oregon recently opened a 1,100-square-foot esports room with high-speed connections and customized chairs.

As esports go mainstream, teams are gaining popularity — but just like traditional college clubs, this extends far beyond the players on the field. Merchandising matters to drive revenue. Effective branding with school colors matters for recognition. And as Michael Domingo, marketing manager for Intel, notes, “Pro esports are now a career. Teams need media support, content creation and shoutcast commentators to stand out in the industry.”

This is reflected in evolving career paths: VentureBeat points to options in product management, remote team management, marketing and broadcasting. At the University of California, Irvine, for example, esports go beyond the arena; the school now offers an esports management specialized studies program through its Division of Continuing Education.

As esports grow at the K–12 level, primarily with high schools, districts are investing in gaming computers, monitors and other necessary accessories. As Intel notes in a December 2019 report titled “The Rising Tide of Esports in Education,” high schools “aren’t expected to provide professional-level spaces and hardware,” but their esports athletes do need “a basic level of support.” That includes spaces for playing and meeting, ergonomic furniture, and technology — wired internet connections, computers and large screen displays.

The widespread mobile device adoption and on-demand connections that have helped esports go mainstream also enable players to meet online in their own homes if needed — a plus in the era of social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn about the academic and social benefits of esports. 

Considering These Core Criteria for Esports

Esports teams “can start small and grow big,” the Intel report states.

How big? Colleges and universities are spending money to outfit arenas, design merchandise and give gamers the technology they need to outpace and outplay their competition.

Arenas aren’t unheard of for high schools. In December, Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts announced the opening of AREA 123, a new esports arena. Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new esports arena in March.

Lucrative esports environments make finding and recruiting great talent a worthwhile endeavor for colleges and universities. The caveat? Even the best program won’t survive if nobody’s watching.

While it’s one thing to push video feeds live across screens in an arena, esports teams must also stream their content to increasingly popular gaming platforms, including Twitch, Mixer and YouTube Gaming. This requires the right CPU for the job, Domingo says. While graphics processing units deliver high frames per second to ensure gamers aren’t left behind, the multi-core, multithread nature of the 9th and 10th Gen Intel Core processors “can handle different tasks at the same time that are intensive.”

For schools, this means finding a balance between cost, power and performance to ensure streaming and shoutcasting (esports’ version of sports commentary) capabilities can keep pace with team performance. But which Intel CPU — the Core i5, Core i7 or Core i9 — offers the best fit?

“From a performance perspective, Core i7 CPUs are the gaming system,” Harrison says.

They offer plenty of power for up to two teams of five playing simultaneously, plus support for third-party viewing. “But when you get into streaming, playing and broadcasting, Core i9 is your best bet,” he says.

Using Intel’s 10th-generation technology, with at least eight cores and 16 threads, the Core i9 has enough throughput to handle streaming and broadcasting simultaneously.

In practice, most esports team members are well served with a Core i7 for competition. Broadcast centers and shoutcasting staff, meanwhile, benefit from the power of Core i9 processors.

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