Education insights

Esports – More than just video games

U.S. colleges awarded over $16 million in esports scholarships in 2020. Schools are now offering part- or full-time merit-based scholarships based on esports prowess, while others are reducing tuition or boarding fees by up to 50% for esports recruits. 

Esports players share much in common with traditional athletes – both groups dedicate considerable time to training and benefit from individual and team coaching. But esports can also increase involvement among students who typically don’t participate in extracurricular activities. 

With the power to unite diverse groups of students in stimulating competition and prepare them to excel in careers within booming industries, it’s clear why more schools are seeking to establish esports programs on campus. Here are a few key benefits of school esports programs and tips for launching esports in your school. 

Esports lead to positive outcomes in the education arena 

Esports are digital game competitions that take a variety of forms. Different branches include player vs. player games, multiplayer online battle arenas, real-time strategy games, and sports matches. 

Gamification can improve the rate at which students’ brains process and retain information, increase student engagement and productivity, and promote teamwork and collaborative thinking. 

Another of esports’ key benefits is its ability to teach youth about inclusion. Esports bring diverse youth into the same space – particularly those from minority populations including black, latinx, LGBT, and low-socioeconomic status (SES) who spend more time playing online games than their white, heterosexual, high-SES counterparts.  

In a time when 70% of youth in the U.S. stop playing traditional sports by the time they turn 13, pre-teens and teens on average spend over an hour each day playing computer, console, or mobile games. Schools witness a noticeable increase in club membership when they form esports programs, especially among students who frequently experience marginalization. 

Students who share a passion for esports engage in novel perspective-taking. The nature of esports requires players to make quick, strategic decisions based on what is best for a group or mission. In multiplayer games, players develop communication skills within the context of a team. 

Newer games are attempting to create more opportunities to build empathy by including dialogue that reveals a character’s personal struggles. When youth can witness the world through diverse characters’ points of view, they may be more likely to demonstrate understanding, patience, and kindness toward others. 

In a realm where players practice teamwork, communication, self-regulation, and maintaining a growth mindset, it is no surprise that esports prepare youth for a variety of lucrative STEM-related careers, such as coding and programming, software and web development, and data analytics. In an activity that requires strategy, creativity, and collaboration, careers in event planning and digital marketing are also promising career options. 

How to start an esports program in your school 

As esports grow in popularity and educators increasingly embrace innovations in technology, starting a school esports program is easier than ever. Educators do not need to be experts to take on an advisory role, as there are plenty of resources to help new club leaders in the initial stages. 

The first step? Define the strategy. Here are a few questions to ask when planning a program: 

  1. What are the overall goals? How will success be defined? Goals might include a certain number of student participants, a number of intra- or intermural competitions, or hours spent using the equipment. 
  1. Which games will be purchased? Research games to determine which ones will provide the greatest benefit to students — be sure to take game popularity into account, but also consider whether each game is appropriate for various ages and skill levels.  
  1. What sort of team or league will be created? Esports programs are typically either set up as recreational leagues where students compete against their school mates, club leagues where students on the same team can come from multiple schools, or varsity programs where students from the same school compete against other schools. 

Lenovo offers more quick tips on what to do and what to avoid when starting your esports program. Download the one-pager

Once the club is established, the teacher and students can collaborate to agree upon regulations, roles, governance, and the structure of meetings. Some meetups might be devoted to discussing strategy, while others may be completely practice-based with students playing in simulated tournaments or battles. 

In larger school districts, some schools may have already started esports programs. New advisers can link up with neighboring schools or districts to see what works well, then make adjustments based on their group and access to technology. 

If there are no esports programs in the area, club leaders can consult a variety of helpful online resources that teach students all about digital citizenship and how to use the online gaming community or social media within the context of an esports program. The North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) offers various tools and curriculum materials – including a cyber wellness unit – all of which are free to download. 

There are also a variety of nonprofit organizations whose mission is to help educators and community leaders start esports programs – educators can access their websites to learn more from the experts.  

The High School Esports League is another useful group that offers resources for building and funding an esports program and accessing necessary equipment. Depending on the type of game, players will need a console, controller, and monitor (at the least).  

Lenovo’s Legion bundle provides all the equipment a esports team needs to compete.

Esports in schools – a win-win for all stakeholders 

Today, approximately 4 out of every 10 students don’t participate in any kind of extracurricular activity. Whereas some may lament that fact, schools should view this statistic as an opportunity to create an exciting new program that connects students and shows promise in preparing them for a bright future. 

Within the ecosystems of learning that spring from esports, students become better collaborators, more creative thinkers, and more strategic decision makers. In turn, schools stand to increase student engagement and build community among diverse student groups in ways they never have been able to do before. 

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