CDW Education’s National Esports Manager Doug Konopelko (right) hosts a “California Esports Roundtable” at CITE 2022.

Dec 02 2022

CITE 2022: Where Should Schools Start When Building an Esports Program?

Esports coaches, league leaders and IT experts advised an engaged audience to focus on their goals — and students’ needs — when creating an esports program.

Esports is growing in schools around the country, and organizations are working with districts to build this activity into curricula and after-school programs.

“We’re working to legitimize esports,” said Carolyn Navarro, an executive assistant for the North America Scholastic Esports Federation, during the California Esports Roundtable at the California IT in Education conference.

Heidi Baynes and Steve Hickman, educational technology coordinators for the Riverside County Office of Education, also spoke on how their office is supporting schools’ implementation of esports programs.

“We’re really trying to lay the framework for how we want to get schools involved,” Hickman said. “We want to showcase what different programs are doing for esports. We want to lure more and more schools in to get these programs working.”

In addition to speaking with panelists — including JuanPablo Larios, a CTE teacher and esports coach at Orange Unified School District, and James Hicks and Phil Lucero, IT liaisons for Los Angeles Unified School District — roundtable host Doug Konopelko, national esports manager at CDW Education, opened the floor to questions from the audience, which led to discussions about student participation and console options in esports.

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Create an Esports Community with Student Needs in Mind

Being at school leads to success, Konopelko said, and esports helps keep kids at school who might not otherwise be there. He advised attendees in the audience to let the students’ and the program’s goals guide the choices educators make as they build esports in their own districts.

“If we make it too hard for them to stay here and play, our students will just go home and play,” Konopelko said. “What we want them to do is build that community here at school, so that they can play and find their peer group.”

Panelists also noted that the esports community wasn’t limited to just the players.

“One of the things our league did last year was host a fan art contest,” Baynes said, noting that more 80 students submitted art. “They aren’t necessarily playing the games, but they’re completely involved in their esports club.”

Consoles Affect Gameplay, but Schools Can Start Small

Audience members had many questions about consoles, wanting to know how to secure consoles when hardware is hard to come by, as well as what models are necessary for different levels of competitive play.

MORE ON EDTECH: Discover popular trends in K–12 esports arenas.

Members of the roundtable agreed that it might be best to start with Nintendo Switch consoles, because they’re not as expensive as other devices and there’s a low barrier to entry for students.

Larios noted that all of his team’s equipment had been donated by the Orange USD community, allowing him to build an esports program with limited resources.

Panelists did, however, point out that competitive teams likely would need gaming PCs to compete at the high school level. Konopelko explained that the resolution and frame rate can make a drastic difference in an athlete’s performance, but added that this doesn’t need to break the bank, depending on which games schools choose. “Three machines make a competitive team for Rocket League,” Konopelko said.

Lucero said LAUSD is in the process of building an esports lab with the help of CDW, which Hicks noted could be used as a CTE lab during the day before transitioning to an esports arena after school.

Ultimately, panelists agreed, it’s best to start small and focus on the goals of a district’s program when deciding what titles to play and what hardware to purchase for a new esports team.

Bookmark this page to stay up to date with our CITE 2022 conference coverage, and join the conversation on Twitter when you follow @EdTech_K12 and use the hashtag #CITE2022.

Photography by Rebecca Torchia

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