A combination of the rising popularity of competitive gaming, COVID-19-fueled disconnect from traditional school curriculum and increased use of digital devices and remote learning has taken many school districts into a new direction as they introduce esports into their curriculum and extra-curricular programs.
School districts around the country are investing heavily in new electronic sports clubs and classes by harnessing student interest in a way that allows students to see their school as a place that encourages them to explore a subject that speaks to them and to their generation. For years, many schools held out against incorporating esports into their athletic programs because of the perception that esports was too similar to Vegas online casino gaming, which is expressly denied to those under 18 years of age.
But now, the number of schools that use the esports as a platform for teaching the traditional “three Rs” is growing. Educators are also seeing esports as a method for teaching real-life 21st century skills such as how to develop and manage a website, run social media accounts, run in-game cameras, oversee a stream, manage team logistics, handle videography, manage public relations and develop broadcasting skills.
eSports programs have been running in many top universities for a number of years and just as high schools field football and basketball teams so that their students can achieve college sports scholarships, the schools’ esports programs have the same goal. Some school districts have already organized varsity, junior varsity and other team events.
In Youngstown Ohio, Charles Stark is the esports program director. Together with coach Dennis Yommer, they aim to bring the district into Esports Ohio so that the students can start meeting other competitors from other districts across the state. “When we consider a sport in the traditional sense, there has always been some form of athletic involvement,” says Yommer. “What’s unique about esports is it takes all of the other elements that are defined by a sport and applies them to something that a student can do and participate in on a personal computer, Xbox or PlayStation.”
For those in the know, esports is very similar to traditional sports and esports gamers are athletes in every sense of the word. Success in esports, like in regular sports, is heavily dependent on the athletes demonstrating responsibility, teamwork and leadership along with unity and a competitive spirit.
“It’s just with a game that’s played online as opposed to in person,” Yommer says. He matches the players to the roles that they’ll be playing – outgoing, energetic personalities for damage characters, the ability to strategize for support characters, etc. He believes that the teamwork and communication skills that the students pick up as a result of their esports gaming will help them in their future studies and endeavors.
The focus isn’t only on the gaming. Students can start to explore careers in game design, broadcasting and even skills like upgrading and building PCs. District program director Stark says “I feel we’re building more in the program, really building a community here.”.
Developing strong partnerships is a key component of a school district’s ability to build a strong scholastic esports program. Christopher Turner, an educator and esports leader at Baton Rouge’s Southern University Laboratory School says, “relationships are your foundation in the building process. You might be excited, but Rome wasn’t built by one man.
Successful teams have one thing in common – alliances that are embedded in their ecosystems which provide the fuel needed to create successful programs. Educators who have successfully gotten school esports programs off the ground say that, before a school or a district moves forward, they need to get their ducks in line. Necessary components include the participation and enthusiasm of:
- Local businesses and community organizations such as those that support the school football team in return for a mention. Some of these businesses will provide team shirts, tech equipment, funds to help with travel expenses, etc. Such organizations can also provide internship opportunities, help with scholarships and put students in touch with esports pros and others in the field.
- District vendors often have resources and connections and are ready to share them. Some may be happy to help sponsor a team, make it easier to purchase equipment, etc.
- Faculty members can get excited about the opportunities that the esports program offers and help out with unique supplies, supplementary budgets and specialized equipment. Members of the school faculty, especially those in the STEM subjects, may be willing to connect esports to existing instructional programs and curricula and may even be willing to develop curriculum to enhance the esports program in subjects such as broadcasting, game development and digital design.
- Athletic directors and staff members can become excited about esports once they understand how similar esports is to traditional sports. They can create schedules and set up competitions, help connect with other schools and districts for competitions, navigate district bureaucracy and help lead to have the esports team officially recognized.
- It’s a good idea to let the local colleges and universities know that you’ve got an esports program going so that they can start to reach out to the students
- Parents can be the strongest asset to any school program and if they see their kids involved and enthused, chances are that they will be thrilled to help in any way that you need them.
- NASEF, the North America Scholastic eSports Federation, wants to see more schools join the esports bandwagon. NASEF has a wide range of free resources to help schools connect play with meaningful learning.