Code of Conduct essential for esports programs at home

Giving student gamers guidance and advice during the pandemic and alone times, even while they're playing, can be a strong force in mitigating potential toxicity.

One of the most important parts of a successful esports program – other than having the equipment to play – is implementing a Code of Conduct for faculty, coaches and students.

An esports Code of Conduct is an agreement that ensures standards are being met, inclusion is being encouraged and student-athletes are remaining safe online. Most K-12 esports programs across the country have adopted some form of the code. Those that are just starting, should strongly consider it.

When students are on campus, this code is easily enforced by directors and team captains and provides for a positive and structured environment. But what happens when campus is shut down, such as during the current coronavirus pandemic? With esports, it gets more complicated.

Though many schools’ esports seasons and tournaments have been wiped out by the COVID-19 outbreak, students are still competing, sometimes in exhibition events, sometimes on various platforms, using their personal computers. How does that code still apply when they are not in a structured environment? How can administrators and faculty ensure those students are adhering to it?

“Enforcing a code of conduct online has some unique challenges,” says Mark Deppe, the Commissioner of the North America Esports Federation (NASEF). “Given the anonymity that can exist on the internet, it’s important for parents and teachers to pay attention to their children’s behavior and understand what they’re doing. It also takes some experience to understand gamer language and culture and to know what spaces need to be supervised.”

There are many strategies, including an inventive one that the NASEF has implemented as a deterrant to foul play – a bot in its chats that reminds players to abide by the Code, with violations that include being blocked by a moderator. Deppe says that NASEF has multiple moderators in its live video streams “to ensure that participants are behaving themselves.”

NASEF, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to use esports as a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, is one of many that help oversee the K-12 landscape. The High School Esports League, PlayVS and the Electronic Gaming Federation – as well as state associations – also have their own sets of rules, especially when it comes to tournament play. Still further, many individual schools and districts enact team charters (some exist through athletic programs) to ensure the character of their institutions is not being tarnished.

“Each club must create their own charter when they start their club,” says Deppe. “It’s important for students to participate in this process and understand and agree upon their values and goals. Students appreciate the positive guidance and knowing that their esports club will be a welcoming, fun place to hang out with friends, free from toxicity and bullying that may exist in other club or esports environments.”

That charter can be essential in covering items that may not be in the Code of Conduct.

“I think it is really important for schools or districts to create their own [charter] that is aligned with their beliefs and policies,” says Todd McFarlin, co-founder of the Illinois High School Esports Association and a technology teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. “Every school and district are different, and they have many different requirements, especially when it comes to IT and contact with students.”

What is in an esports Code of Conduct?

The Code is basically a contract that sets out guidelines not only for game play, but also for the way in which participants interact. Unsupervised esports games and chat rooms sometimes can be spaces rife with foul language, harassment or worse.

“We need to be crystal clear about what behavior we promote and what won’t be tolerated,” Deppe says. “Esports and online culture have some negative reputations that we have to overcome in order for esports to be more broadly accepted in educational environments.”

To that end, the Code lets students know that their actions are being monitored and that they are expected to adhere to the Code beyond the school.

NASEF’s Code of Conduct is one of the most comprehensive in the esports space.

“Our scholastic esports code of conduct is a cornerstone of our entire initiative,” says Laylah Bulman, Executive Director of the Florida Scholastic Esports League, which is a part of a NASEF, and Program Officer at the Samueli Foundation. “All students and educators are required to review and sign and abide by this code to participate. All activity is monitored by trained personnel, and violations are dealt with accordingly, including up to suspension.”

For those looking to start a program or want to make sure theirs has a strong set of guidelines, NASEF provides a solid framework. The first part of its Code outlines expectations, including creating a safe environment, moderating play, reporting poor behavior and abuse. The second part addresses expressions, language, and more.

Deppe says two of the most important takeaways of the code: “Show respect for everyone around you – your team, your coach, your teachers, your opponents, and NASEF staff. And play fair. Everyone expects a level playing field and so you shouldn’t seek out an unfair advantage.”

Some of NASEF’s rules for students who are competing:

  • Speak Positively About All Others
  • Be Respectful of Others with the Words You Use
  • Choose Your Usernames and Nicknames Carefully
  • Avoid Harassment, Because Yes Always Means Yes
  • Stay Away from Verbal Harassment by Thinking About Your Words
  • Respect Everyone’s Personal Space
  • Show Respect to Others with Your Words and Actions
  • Embrace Diversity of All Kinds
  • Keep Speech Positive and Uplifting
  • Keep Your Hands to Yourself & Never Express Yourself Violently
  • Keep Your and Anyone Else’s Personal Information Private

In addition, NASEF has set out rules for clubs who are competing members. After all, it isn’t just students who must abide by the code:

  • Play Fairly Against Each Other
  • Don’t Team Up with Opposing Teams to “Game the System”
  • Don’t Install Hacks or Exploits to Cheat
  • Don’t Seek an Advantage Through Game Bugs
  • Always Obey the Law
    • Don’t Bet On Matches
    • Never Bribe Anyone – Win the Right Way
  • If You Wouldn’t Say it in Front of Your Grandmother, Don’t Say It Online
  • Use Your Words to Lift Up Others, Not Bring Them Down
  • Respect Your Teammates, Opponents, and Their Property
  • If You’ve Been Asked to Sit Out, Serve Your Time & Learn Your Lesson

Even though the code might be presented early on to students, it is important that faculty continually address and assess topics as reminders to competitors. It is also important to not always dwell on the negative. One of the best strategies to start with when discussing the Code is how students can turn game spaces (especially those at home) into positive atmospheres.

Dr. Kristy Custer, a principal at Complete High School Maize in Kansas and teacher Michael Russell offer this advice to pass on to students: “Focus on giving compliments to teammates and opponents. Everyone could use some uplifting words in this unusual environment we are experiencing right now.”

Chris Burt is the Program Chair for the Academic Esports Conference & Expo, and the Esports Editor for LRP Media Group

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