We’ve all heard it before, whether it be from your parents, your teachers, or your closest friends: “Get off your video game; it’ll rot your brain.” But that way of thinking has long since been retired. Now, young adults are encouraged to chase the activities they find the most fun and engaging, including gaming, because you never know how it may change your life.
Esports has become one of the most innovative opportunities for students to pursue a passion that ultimately started within the comfort of their own homes. Nowadays, schools can help students take their love for gaming to the next level by establishing an esports program, which may ultimately drive postsecondary success through scholarships and even career opportunities. Gaming is no longer just a hobby, and here’s why.
“I see unlimited potential for so many individuals who may or may never have had a voice before,” says Glenn Robbins, superintendent of Brigantine Schools, during the Future of Education Technology’s latest webinar highlighting the latest trends and strategies surrounding esports in the K12 sphere. “This is a whole new sports program. You don’t have to be extremely athletic. You don’t have to have the best grades. You can just be a gamer.”
The list of possible outcomes students can take advantage of through gaming alone is significant, he adds.
“Who would’ve thought we would be saying that a few years ago?” Robbins says.
The growth surrounding the esports industry is something we can’t ignore, posits Katrina Adkins, vice president of the United States Academic Esports League and professor of Gaming and Esports at Post University.
Esports has also expanded opportunities and involvement in extracurricular activities for women, notes Jihan Johnston, esports education specialist for the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF).
“It not only just brings fuel and a light to the community, it highlights the value women have in this space,” said Johnston. “But also, when it comes to an educational space, the different career opportunities that are available for women.”
Lessons learned on establishing an esports program
Designing an esports program requires more than simply providing students with a gaming device and saying, “Have at it.” Superintendents and administrators should start by involving their own students in the conversation, and from there, look at what opportunities and funding are available so they can hit the ground running.
During the webinar, Robbins shared his experience on how Brigantine Schools created its esports program. Here’s what he had to say:
Advice for administrators
“Administrators and educators need to be brought on board,” argued Chris Turner, director of the Mixed Virtual Innovation Gaming and Esports Institute at Southern University Law Center. He said one of the best ways leaders can get an idea of where to start is by surveying your students. Ask them what games they’re playing, how they’re playing them and when.
District Administration also recently published a “Guide to K12 Esports” for administrators wanting to learn more about how to build an esports facility in their own districts.
Sustainability, however, is one of the most important questions K12 leaders must address before moving forward with an esports program. There are several factors to consider; for instance, internet connectivity, hardware maintenance, and, ultimately, funding. Adkins explains that schools can experiment with very little resources.
“I get a lot of calls every day from people asking, ‘What can we do with Chromebooks and some Nintendo Switches? Can we start a program?’ And the answer is, yes, you can,” she says.
Leaders don’t have to start with a flashy new arena or gaming center, although these could be goals later on down the road. But for now, leaders can leverage inexpensive Chromebooks or Nintendo Switches for games like Minecraft and Mario Kart with a focus on careers and curriculum.
“There are a lot of resources out there,” said Adkins. “I would encourage everybody to take a step back and ask, ‘What do I want out of my program? What is my mission and my vision?’ Because if you don’t have that, you can’t create something that will be sustainable for years to come.”