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Esports EDU: Competitive Gaming in the K-12 Classroom

Competitive, organized video gaming – commonly referred to as esports – is a rapidly growing sector of the video game industry, and its momentum shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. According to analyst predictions, the global esports market is anticipated to exceed $1.5 billion in revenue by 2023, the result of a huge uptick in both venture capital and private equity investments. And while the concept of playing video games as a “sport” may seem strange to some, it’s simply impossible to ignore the impact that esports is having on the games industry at large – as well as colleges and high schools across the country.

Consider this – prior to 2014, competitive gaming programs simply did not exist at higher education institutions in the U.S. But today, more than 170 institutions offer collegiate esports programs – in total, awarding more than $16 million in scholarships to students each year. As new programs are introduced, brand new facilities are built, and more learners are actively considering esports as a viable way to help support their college careers, it’s no surprise that student participation in esports is exploding – and it seems the hype has reached U.S. high schools, as well.

As fans of traditional after-school activities like sports and performing arts are already well aware, these programs can be an excellent way to engage, motivate, and challenge students in contexts otherwise inaccessible within typical classroom constraints. But are there other benefits that esports can provide to K-12 students with a passion for gaming and a competitive edge? Let’s take a look:  

Cultivating social emotional skills

Often, gaming is depicted as a solitary, stationary activity – and while there may be some truth to these descriptions, the rise of esports is actively challenging these stereotypes. To successfully participate in an esports team, students must practice and master key collaboration skills – actively listening to coaches and teammates, while also contributing their own perspectives and viewpoints when required. Participants must be willing to adapt to new challenges when facing other teams, honing in on their problem solving skills as they work closely with teammates to set, pursue, and achieve collective goals – developing and practicing social emotional learning skills in real-time.

Fostering healthy habits

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) champions student participation in sports, academic competitions, and performing arts activities for a host of key reasons. From an improved sense of belonging at school, to higher average GPAs, and even the development of life skills – there are a multitude of advantages associated with active participation in one’s school ecosystem, and esports serves as an innovative way to engage students who otherwise wouldn’t otherwise participate in after-school programs. As Uvaldo Garcia, history teacher and esports coach at Fresno, CA’s Duncan High explained to EdTech K-12 Magazine, “This is a good place for students who won’t fit in on a lacrosse or football team. I’m excited to have students who maybe wouldn’t fit in anywhere else, and they come here and find what they’re looking for.”

Creating college pathways

According to ESPN, varsity collegiate esports has rapidly grown since its beginnings in 2014, with more than 170 colleges and universities across the U.S. currently hosting programs of their own. Both the National Collegiate Scouting Association and scholarships.com maintain up-to-date listings of all available esports scholarships, and the total amount of scholarship funding available at the college-level now exceeds $16 million per year. Esports scholarships can help motivate students who otherwise weren’t considering higher education to explore the possibility of a collegiate esports program as a viable post-high school pathway.

Though nascent, the prevalence of esports clubs and programs in K-12 contexts is worthy of more mainstream attention – after all, the lasting benefits of participation in such programs is well-studied. For educators who would like to learn more about the costs, considerations, and next steps for implementing a high school esports program of their own, check out these helpful resources:

How To Start a High School Esports Team and Benefit Your School
How To Create a Winning Esports Program During a Pandemic
How Big School Districts Are Diving Into esports

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