With over 500m people watching esports around the world, and viewership of top tier games frequently outstripping that of major sports like hockey and basketball, it’s clear that the esports industry and its legions of fans are here to stay.
Yet, this surge in popularity hasn’t done as much to ease skepticism and stereotypes in the last decade as many might have hoped. Esports is still often seen as a niche, overwhelmingly male, interest, which is a shame because it has the potential to become its own distinct entity combining the best of sports and video games – and perhaps nowhere else is this uniqueness visible than in education.
While the applicability of using video games as a teaching aide is still hotly debated, and is at best seen as highly situational, the benefits of esports in education are much more obvious given the commonalities it shares with traditional sports. But rather than serving as a replacement, esports fills a specific niche and has the potential to engage an entirely different section of the global student body. For context, a survey of 13 to 18-year-olds found that more than half thought that gaming should be included in the school curriculum and would like to see extracurricular esports competitions hosted by their school or college.
Just as with sports, the benefits of esports go far beyond the surface level skills required to do well; in this case, motor skills and hand eye coordination. In an educational setting, esports teaches the same core principle of teamwork – you can only win as a team that’s coordinated, and can’t exclusively rely on individual talent or skill. The key difference is that because esports is accessible to students who are less traditionally ‘sporty’, the physical aspect of playing in a team is removed. This presents an opportunity to teach students these important lessons where they otherwise might not have the opportunity to connect with the message behind them.
Path to pro
There’s a lot of room for school administrators to capitalise on the inclusive value that esports can bring to their schools, which goes beyond just indulging kids’ enthusiasm for playing games. With the growth of esports as an industry comes the increased need for more competitors, and the need for a pipeline to reach the highest level. Given the levels of success enjoyed by top level players and streamers, this has proven to be an incredibly popular career path for a huge number of young people. While not everyone is likely to reach the top level of competition, just as not everyone is likely to become a star athlete, harnessing the enthusiasm is a perfect way to increase initial engagement with the lessons that can be taught through structured esports.
“With the growth of esports as an industry comes the increased need for more competitors, and the need for a pipeline to reach the highest level”
For those who don’t necessarily want to play the games themselves, new career paths are being established in esports that require a huge range of different skills that can be taught within an esports education framework. Referees, coaches, recruiters, product managers and event managers are all crucial to the industry. And there are also opportunities in marketing, sales, web development and design. Sitting at a crossroads between technology, sports and entertainment, esports can act as a gateway to develop skills relevant for a plethora of careers.
There are plenty of examples of schools embracing esports as a unique way to teach hard and soft skills. Companies like HSEL (High School Esports League) in the US are making inroads into creating a student-first approach to esports centered around building a middle school to college track. In the UK, Twitch recently announced an academic partnership with the University of Chichester for its new esports degree. Here at Challengermode, we work closely with Learn2Esport, a company working on an edtech platform, curriculum development and performance coaching in high schools around the world. Challengermode itself is working closely with schools to make esports in education easier for everyone involved.
Participating in esports can spark or strengthen students’ interest in emerging, technology-driven careers, but there’s more that needs to be done from both sides to make this a reality. As a young industry, esports still needs to find the best ways to use its existing talent to teach future generations and create the same standard of teaching that’s expected from more established subjects. And educational institutions need to be more future-focused when considering how best to teach students of today for the world of tomorrow.
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