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Esports in the K-12 Classroom

At this point, we’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of esports one way or another! With its total audience expected to surpass 640 million in 2025, competitive gaming is taking adult gamers, higher education, and schools by storm. At the beginning of 2021, we gave you an inside scoop on esports in the K-12 classroom. There are many reasons why the popularity of esports didn’t waver after their surge in 2020. We covered how esports can pave the way for students through social-emotional learning, future-facing skills, and more. With so many incredible benefits and outcomes, it’s high time we revisit competitive gaming specifically for K-12! Let’s take a look at the latest K-12 esports trends and more reasons why competitive gaming gives students a 1Up in and out of school.

via Giphy

School pride, leveling up shoutcasters, and other 2022 K-12 esports trends

In our edtech predictions from the beginning of 2022, we predicted that esports would continue to expand – in participation, viewership, and platforms. According to the latest statistics, it looks like that growth isn’t stopping anytime soon. But it’s one thing to talk just about the numbers – what does esports look like in practice, in schools, right now? According to Jen Dawson, an esports solution specialist, and Josh Whetherholt, an education learning environment adviser in an article for EdTech Magazine, currently there are several distinct trends in K-12 esports arenas. 

Firstly, all of the fanfare and creativity you’d expect for traditional sports teams is starting to show up in esports leagues too – from school colors, logos, team names, and customized equipment like gaming chairs, students are showing off their school pride and team pride. Dawson and Whetherholt also note that the setup of equipment esports arenas in schools is always purposeful – students facing one another in groups can communicate quickly and easily, while students playing side-by-side can focus on the competitive aspect. 

Another trend in K-12 esports includes improved tech and designated spaces for shoutcasters. If you don’t know what a shoutcaster is, think of the announcers in traditional sports. These students are tasked with watching matches and giving others a succinct play-by-play. This position requires its own equipment and set of skills. According to the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), shoutcasters build unique skills they can put forth towards a career in content creation in the future.

Finally, Dawson and Whetherholt conclude that esports coaching has changed over recent years. While it used to be difficult to find coaches for competitive gaming leagues in schools, student familiarity with esports has made it easier. Students can exercise leadership skills and help coaches understand the gaming and technology side of the sport, while the coach primarily handles the administrative work for the league. To summarize, teachers don’t have to know much about esports to begin coaching – they can jump in and learn as they go from their team! 

For even more details on the latest trends in K-12 esports, check out this article from EdTech Magazine. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or other staff member interested in starting your own esports program at your K-12 institution, check out the video below for tips on how to get started!

Esports for all: progress, pitfalls, and practical solutions

Many educators and other esports facilitators have noticed that esports attracts all types of students, varying in abilities, identities, and interests. There are other supportive roles integral to esports leagues, so students do not necessarily have to excel at video games to excel on an esports team. Chris Aviles, an esports coordinator for Monmouth Beach School District in New Jersey told EdTech Magazine he “estimates that for every two students who join a scholastic esports team to play competitively, there is at least one who doesn’t want to play but wants to be part of the community, whether that is through ‘shoutcasting’ games, creating graphics and other content, or ensuring the team’s workstations perform at a high level.”

Research has also shown that a significant amount of participants in esports are from historically marginalized communities. Kristy Custer, Vice President of Educational Innovation at High School Esports League (HSEL) noted in an interview with District Administration that “‘You can come to the esports team and be whoever you want to be. One of the most foundational things that we learned [from a research study done this fall of a big high school district] is that 7% of the students gaming were from the LGBTQ community. All nine top sports combined are only getting 9%. Esports is capturing a marginalized, high-risk community, and we are helping them belong to something. It crosses a lot of social-economic boundaries.’” Adding on to that sentiment is Kyle Berger, Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCISD) esports coordinator and CTO, who informed EdTech Magazine “that the first year his district offered a competitive esports program, 75 percent of the students who signed up weren’t involved in any other extracurricular activity.”

Female participation in esports is currently low, and it’s important to note that this gap isn’t due to a lack of interest in gaming. Recent data shows that 46% of gaming enthusiasts are female. Many schools are working hard to address this gender gap. In combination with esports role models such as EMUHLEET, a professional VALORANT player for Dignitas, and organizations such as Girls Make Games and the*gameHERs, many esports facilitators are making sure the esports environment is welcoming to girls and gives them the confidence they need to fill various roles in esports leagues. 

For example, Laylah Bulman, founder and executive director of the Florida Scholastic Esports League, notes that the way leagues recruit or access players from the outset needs changing: “On some of the forms, the teachers were asking how many hours of playing students had. Those kinds of tryouts perhaps didn’t allow girls to demonstrate their interest. By changing that and making it more accessible, they started addressing the gender imbalance.” The amount of opportunities esports offer, such as leadership skills and STEM skills isn’t limited to one gender, so it’s imperative that schools find ways to reach girls, who are already underrepresented in STEM fields. 

Hands-on technology experience and pipeline to STEM careers

Esports give K-12 students opportunities to refine their technological literacy skills – and not just through playing games. Brad Grimes for EdTech Magazine writes that “some students get involved with esports just to work with high-end gaming machines.” Kyle Berger of the GCISD recounted that in some esports leagues, students participate in computer maintenance and repair – this includes building equipment, testing equipment before it’s used for matches, and more. 

Between experience with hardware and software, it’s no wonder that esports are one of the best extracurricular activities schools can include to increase interest in STEM careers. The Association for Career & Technical Education reports, “Academic esports offer a gateway to STEM-related career pathways such as game design and development, information technology (IT), engineering, web development, as well as orbital careers in sports marketing related fields.” 

This pipeline to STEM can go even further when esports are combined with explicitly educational games. While still an emerging sector of the esports ecosystem, organizations like NASEF and events like our FIRST Global RoboCo Challenge demonstrate the power and potential of scholastic esports. Between NASEF offering “middle school modules that focus on translatable esports skills” and our work with FIRST Global to make digital robotics widely accessible, students have more opportunities to discover areas in STEM that interest them. 

Esports are benefitting K-12 students in a variety of ways, and competitive gaming has a promising future in schools. At Filament, we’re excited to contribute to the growth of scholastic esports through our efforts to make robotics available to all – digitally! If you’re interested in creating your own educational game, reach out to us today for a free consultation. Trust us – there’s nothing like the power of a good game to kickstart meaningful learning. 

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