Still not convinced about the power of esports in schools?

It's time to ditch the stereotypes and embrace the multitude of benefits that comes from a multi-tiered strategy that leverages competitive video gaming to foster student growth
By: | September 8, 2020
Photo courtesy of NASEF

Anyone spend an inordinate amount of time at home the past few months? Did you happen to have a kid or two at home with you? 

If you answered yes to these questions, odds are you faced the screen time dilemma. How much is too much? Is it destructive or constructive? Was some of that playing video games? Fortnite anyone? What if I told you that playing video games turns out to actually include benefits?

Case in point: I have a 12-year-old son. He missed seeing his friends in class and on the playground. Being a 12-year-old boy in 2020 means you do NOT call buddies on the phone.  And unlike my 9-year-old daughter who can Facetime her bestie for hours while concocting new versions of slime (our glue bill was not budgeted sufficiently), my son shows little interest in “seeing” his friends to chit-chat. Yet, he found a safe space to interact, communicate and compete with his friends online through gaming. 

Let me provide a little context as to why this is important for all students. 

As the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE is my wonderful employer, by the way) states, “Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a comprehensive framework that aligns academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning in a fully integrated system of support for the benefit of all students.” (https://ocde.us/MTSS/Pages/CA-MTSS.aspx

Ironically, the tagline OCDE uses for our MTSS work is “All Means All” – meaning all students should be supported in all ways all of the time. And, since basically all young people play video games, you can see the instant correlative opportunity. The question that may pop into your head at this point is, exactly how esports can possibly provide supports in all three of those aligned categories? Bear with me, if you will.

Inclusive academic means that we are looking for explicit connections to state content standards. Through the work of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) in conjunction with OCDE and the University of California, Irvine, we authored a curriculum that specifically aligns with Next Generation Science Standards, English Language Arts standards, International Society for Technology in Education standards and Career Technical Education standards. See where this is going now?

Inclusive behavioral instruction seeks the identification of universal supports and interventions for the betterment of student behavior. NASEF’s work with scholastic esports explicitly connects interest-based learning with a written code of conduct; a safe, engaging, inclusive environment; direct instruction of positive expectations and digital responsibility; and a place where every student is engaged. While esports is often portrayed as a vast wasteland of apathy and teen angst, it actually provides benefits when structured, monitored and intentional.

Inclusive social-emotional instruction translates into valuable opportunities for personal growth. In competing on esports teams under the guidance of responsible adults and peers, students can set and achieve positive goals, make responsible decisions, and engage diverse student voices, all while being culturally responsive to teammates and the needs of the game. I think you may finally start to understand the potential benefits of scholastic esports.

What other aspects of a scholastic esports program can enhance the probability that your sophomores playing more Rocket League will actually be beneficial? How about a leadership vision that connects student interests in and around gaming to workforce and industry? Or developing a culture where schools will meet students where they are in a gesture of acceptance and inclusivity? When you open your mind to esports beyond stereotypes and into the realm of an integrated and cohesive system of support, all of these questions get answered while educators can go about supporting the whole child.

And now, back to my son. With a new school year starting virtually, he still lacks the personal interactions from friends in a hallway or classroom. I have embraced that he can game after school (and after homework) and also make the occasional video for his Youtube channel (another clever method of creativity and connection when monitored – and destined for another article). I just have to make sure that he does not check his Discord feed during actual instruction!


Tom Turner currently serves as the Executive Director of Educational Services with the Orange County (CA) Department of Education. In this role, he regularly interacts with classroom teachers, site administrators, and district leadership in implementing STEM professional learning and program development throughout the county. He has been an educator for the last 20 years, working as a classroom teacher, Principal, and Director of Instruction. He also is a member of the Board for Discovery Cube Orange County and supports grants from the National Science Foundation.


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