Esports sessions hit mark with educators at FETC in Miami

Attendees learn the benefits of starting a program at secondary schools and higher education institutions—and best practices for long-term success
By: | January 15, 2020
Jeff Palumbo of Lenovo and Joe McAllister of CDW

About 20 minutes before one of the opening sessions at the Future of Education Technology Conference®, nearly all of the chairs in meeting room 202 at the Miami Beach Convention Center were filled. Educators were there early and ready to ask questions about one of the biggest buzzwords at this massive four-day show: esports.

Two of the top experts in technology and esports delivered sound advice on a variety of topics during the lively morning presentation.

Joe McAllister, learning environment advisor at CDW, and Jeff Palumbo, global esports solutions manager at Lenovo, turned Wednesday’s kickoff speaking session on esports into a classroom for educators, fielding questions from those interested in implementing it in their schools:

  • Is it the athletic director who controls esports?
  • How long is the season?
  • Which games should we be playing?
  • What about first-person shooter games?

Though esports, or competitive video gaming, is still new to many here at the show, everyone at Wednesday’s session had heard of it, is exploring its merits or is looking to get it approved in some way.

“It’s about bringing esports to life,” McAllister said of starting and growing an esports program in schools. “I call it getting everyone into cleats.”

Both speakers used traditional sports analogies to deliver strong messages about esports to their audience—from helping students develop skills inside the classroom to monitoring their activity and promoting digital citizenship.


Read: Get the free DA-FETC guide to K-12 esports


“Students should be playing students,” Palumbo said. “You don’t go down to the Y to sign up for basketball and throw them into a men’s league.”

As for those athletes, the speakers reminded attendees that those who play esports don’t need to have any special talent—just a love for gaming. Palumbo joked that he was a “hybrid nerd,” having played both sports and video games growing up. He also admitted with pride that he started on the Atari 2600, calling himself “O.G., for original gamer.” McAllister, a former wrestler, called himself a “nerd-lete.”

“You don’t have to be the best athlete or a cyberathlete to be involved,” Palumbo said. “All that wasted time playing video games got me my job, so look at me now, Mom! Esports is commonplace. It is mainstream. It’s here, and it’s here to stay.”

Palumbo and McAllister tackled a number of best practices and subjects, including the evolution of esports in education, careers and opportunities, student safety, mentoring, curriculum and program integration. They also looked at the staggering phenomenon esports has become, with numbers to back it up. McAllister noted that it is a $2.5 billion industry; that $16 million in scholarships are available to students; and that more than 50% of the states in the U.S. now have some competitive high school esports championships.

Other sessions that took place Wednesday included:

  • “Making an Impact on Campus Stakeholders,” hosted by Robert Morris Esports Director Kurt Melcher
  • “Spotlight on Schools,” with leaders from Miami-Dade County Public Schools sharing their firsthand experiences with esports
  • “Financing and Funding,” with Boise State’s Chris Haskell
  • “Understanding the Athletes,” with Midwest Esports’ Ramsey Jamoul and Jonathon Long
  • “Resources for Esports Coaches and Directors,” with Jay Prescott and Jason Bauer of NAECAD

On Thursday, the esports show launches again in the morning with a look at the history of gaming from renowned New Jersey middle school teacher Steve Isaacs. The rest of the day is a who’s who of leading voices in education and esports:

  • “Technology: Hardware, Infrastructure and Games,” with Joshua Pann of HP Inc.
  • “The Impact on GPA & Attendance with Esports in High Schools,” with Jason Kirby of the High School Esports League
  • “Esports in K-12: What, Why and How!” with Liz Newbury of the Wilson Center, J Collins of Hathaway School and Steve Isaacs of Bernards Township Public Schools
  • “Building an Esports Pilot at Nine Schools,” with leaders from Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  • “Engaging Students Through Their Love of Game,” with NASEF’s Mark Deppe and Gerald Solomon (Samueli Foundation)
  • “Esports Arenas and Facilities,” with Michael Jones of Drury University and Derek Spinell of Mount Union
  • “Esports for Education,” with middle school esports pioneer Chris Aviles
  • “Recruitment, Retention and Scholarships,” with Jay Prescott of NAECAD and Dana Hustedt of Grand View University
  • “Implementing Esports at SUNY Canton,” with Randy Sieminski

The Future of Education Technology Conference® and UB Tech®, to be held June 15-17, feature a robust number of esports sessions and will help preview the launch of LRP Media Group’s new Academic Esports Conference & Expo, to be held October 19-21 at the Hilton Chicago. For more information on the event, contact Chris Burt, program conference chair and esports editor, at cburt@lrp.com.


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