Unleashing the Power of Esports in schools

Unleashing the Power of Esports in Schools
Exploring the Benefits and Opportunities for Students

By Holly Kelly
Regional Educational Technology Coordinator
Learning Technology Center of Illinois

Game On 
How Esports is Taking Over the School Scene 
The extracurricular showcase at your school is a hub of activity, with tables lining the perimeter of the cafeteria, each hosting a club or program. Amidst the lively chatter and bustling crowds, one table draws your attention with a line that snakes halfway around the room. It is the esports booth and the buzz of excitement and curiosity is palpable. This scene is not surprising, considering that gaming is an increasingly popular pastime, with 75 percent of households boasting at least one gamer.

The Rise of Esports 
A Phenomenon That’s Taking Over the World
Esports has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a niche activity for gaming enthusiasts. Today, it is a global phenomenon that has captured the hearts and minds of millions of fans and players worldwide. From its explosive growth to the staggering prize pools, this industry is revolutionizing competitive gaming in ways we never thought possible. In this section, we explore the reasons behind the surge in popularity of esports and why schools worldwide are embracing it with such fervor. So, grab your controllers, put on your headphones and let’s dive into the world of esports.

There are several reasons for the surge in popularity of esports programs. Firstly, the increasing sophistication and popularity of video games across all age groups have propelled gaming into the mainstream. The statistics support this claim, with gameplay on the rise across multiple age groups. Additionally, the proliferation of online streaming platforms such as Twitch has enabled gamers to showcase their skills and engage with fans in real-time, creating a more immersive and interactive experience for viewers. Through live streaming, gamers can demonstrate their prowess, share tips and strategies and connect with their audience on a more personal level. As a result, strong communities of gamers and fans have emerged, centered around specific games and genres, giving rise to a new generation of gaming celebrities.

Furthermore, the accessibility and convenience of these platforms have made gaming more accessible to a broader audience, including individuals with disabilities, with 24 million gamers identifying as such. Anyone can now watch and interact with their favorite players from anywhere in the world, at any time and on a variety of devices. This has opened up new opportunities for gamers to build their following and make a career out of their passion for gaming. The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated the growth of esports, as traditional sports events were canceled, leading to the increased demand for alternative forms of entertainment. Esports provided students with a safe and socially distant form of competition when other forms of entertainment were closed off.

The popularity of esports is multifaceted and has been propelled by several factors, including the increasing sophistication and accessibility of video games, the proliferation of online streaming platforms, the rise of gaming celebrities and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no wonder that schools worldwide are embracing esports programs with such enthusiasm, given the vast potential and opportunities they offer for their students.

Why Schools are Leveling Up with this Game-Changing Phenomenon
The rise of esports in educational institutions has been a topic of interest in the past year and while there are many factors contributing to its surge in popularity, the reasons behind schools embracing this phenomenon are not entirely clear. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that esports can offer significant benefits to students who are inherently tech-savvy. As a result, schools are adopting esports as a legitimate sport and incorporating it into their programs.

Esports programs provide a unique platform for students to develop a range of valuable skills that go beyond gaming proficiency. Effective communication, strategic coordination and mutual support are essential for success in esports. This allows students to enhance their teamwork and collaboration skills as they learn to work towards a common goal with others. Additionally, esports programs promote sportsmanship and fair play, essential skills for success in any competitive environment. By persevering through challenges, students develop resilience and learn to bounce back from setbacks and keep pushing toward their goals. Furthermore, participating in esports allows students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement and set goals for themselves. In addition, the ability to think critically and make strategic decisions under pressure is crucial in esports and practicing problem-solving skills in a fast-paced and competitive environment can help students develop this ability.

Esports scholarships are becoming increasingly common at colleges and universities, with the United States alone offering more than $15 million in scholarships. This provides opportunities for students to receive financial support while pursuing their passion for gaming. Overall, the benefits of esports for students are numerous and schools recognize the value of incorporating esports into their extracurricular activities.

A Practical Guide to Launching a Winning Esports Program at Your School 
Are you ready to level up your school’s extracurricular offerings with an esports program? With the practical advice provided in this guide, you can successfully establish a sustainable esports program that not only enriches your school’s culture but also provides an opportunity for students to showcase their skills and passion for gaming. Similar to starting any other athletic team, the process involves obtaining authorization, assembling a team of interested students, appointing a coach and procuring the necessary equipment and facilities. By following a practical checklist, you can ensure the development of a triumphant competitive program that enhances your school’s extracurricular activities. So, let’s press start and see how far your school’s esports program can go! Game on!

First and foremost, it is imperative to conduct research before embarking on an esports program. Familiarize yourself with the various aspects of esports, including the types of games, the rules and regulations of each game and the numerous esports leagues and organizations. Once you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, seek support from neighboring schools with esports programs (either clubs or competitive teams), school administrators, parents and students. In addition, partnering with local businesses or organizations that can provide funding, equipment or expertise can be advantageous.

The choice of games is critical, and it should be contingent on your school’s characteristics and student demographics. Popular games with a competitive scene, such as League of Legends, Overwatch or Fortnite could be considered. Alternatively, you could explore games that do not involve first-person shooters, such as Mario Kart, Rocket League or League of Legends.

Procuring and setting up the necessary equipment, such as gaming computers, monitors and controllers, is indispensable, as is having a dependable internet connection and suitable software and hardware for each game. Building a solid rapport with your technology director could be beneficial and to show a small token of appreciation, coffee or lunch could go a long way towards fostering a positive relationship.

The next step involves recruiting interested students to form a team, and you might want to consider holding tryouts or conducting interviews to identify the most skilled and committed players. You could also contemplate establishing multiple teams for different games or skill levels. Setting guidelines and rules for the esports program, including eligibility requirements, a code of conduct, practice schedules and competition rules, is vital.

Scheduling regular competitions with other schools or local esports leagues is an excellent way to gain exposure and test the team’s skills. Participating in esports tournaments or hosting your own tournaments can also be a worthwhile endeavor. Finally, promoting the esports program to the school community and beyond through a dedicated website or social media pages can enhance visibility and attract more participants.

Launching an esports program can be a fulfilling and enriching experience for students, faculty and the community at large. By adhering to the guidelines outlined above and enlisting the support of various stakeholders, you can create a successful and sustainable esports program that can serve as a model for other schools and districts.

The Financial Aspects of Establishing an Esports Program
Embarking on an esports program requires a careful assessment of the financial costs involved. The program’s size, level of competition and equipment needs are crucial factors that determine the overall budget. Herein, we delve into the primary costs associated with launching an esports program and how to manage them.

The most significant expense of starting an esports program is the equipment. High-performance gaming computers that can handle the latest games with ease are a must-have. Investing in gaming monitors with low input lag, high refresh rates and low response times is essential to get the most out of gaming computers. Gaming peripherals like keyboards, mice and headphones are also critical to enhancing the gaming experience. Investing in ergonomic gaming chairs can help reduce discomfort caused by sitting for long hours.

Other equipment includes network equipment, such as routers, switches and access points to ensure a stable and fast internet connection for the program. Streaming equipment like webcams, microphones and capture cards are also necessary, as streaming has become an integral part of esports. Coaches must invest in software like game launchers, communication software and analytics software to manage and organize esports programs. Furthermore, coaches must obtain necessary licenses to run games on gaming computers, including software licenses or online service subscriptions for some games.

Participating in organized competitions or leagues requires payment of registration fees, travel expenses and other associated costs. Coaches may also consider getting insurance to protect their equipment and programs from potential damage or theft.

The cost of starting an esports program can range from a few hundred dollars for a small club to tens of thousands of dollars for a more comprehensive competitive program. Proper budgeting and investment in quality equipment, peripherals and software can help create a successful and thriving esports program.

Overcoming Challenges and Pushback in Esports Program Implementation
While the benefits of an esports program are numerous, there are also significant setbacks that must be taken into consideration when planning such a program. Stakeholders may push back on several fronts, ranging from resource limitations to legal concerns. In this section, we explore these challenges and offer counterarguments to demonstrate the potential of esports programs.

Resource Limitations
Esports programs require specialized equipment, which can pose a significant financial burden for schools. Educators may struggle to obtain the necessary equipment to start and sustain a successful esports program. One possible solution to this challenge is to seek partnerships with local businesses or organizations that may donate or sponsor equipment. Another option is to start small with existing equipment or lower-cost alternatives and gradually upgrade equipment as the program grows. Esports programs can be flexible regarding equipment needs, with some games playable on less expensive hardware. Starting as a club with a sponsor rather than a competitive team with a coach and creating a meet-up after school is a gentle approach to starting a program at school.

Technical Difficulties
Esports programs, like any technology-based program, may experience technical difficulties such as connectivity issues, equipment malfunctions or software problems. This can disrupt gameplay and hinder the learning experience for students. However, overcoming these challenges can be beneficial for students. Developing skills to troubleshoot technical issues, working collaboratively to find solutions and adapting to changing circumstances are highly transferable skills to other fields like computer science and engineering, which are in demand in today’s job market. It is also worth noting that traditional sports programs can also face weather-related cancellations or equipment malfunctions.

Balancing Academics and Esports
Balancing academics and esports is essential for educators seeking to implement esports programs in schools. While esports can help students develop important skills such as teamwork, communication and problem-solving, it is crucial to find a way to balance these activities with academic responsibilities. Setting up designated practice times that do not conflict with class schedules and requiring a certain GPA to participate are some ways to ensure students can maintain their academic performance while participating in esports. Although eligibility requirements may limit student involvement, they can also incentivize students to prioritize their academic responsibilities and create a more focused and dedicated esports team, ultimately promoting a balanced and healthy lifestyle for students.

Negative Stereotypes
Negative stereotypes associated with esports, such as promoting violence, prolonged screen time or wasting time, can create challenges in gaining support and funding for the program. However, these stereotypes are often based on misinformation or outdated beliefs. Research has shown that esports can have a positive impact on students, developing teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills. Additionally, esports can give students a sense of community and belonging, improving their mental health and overall well-being. Esports is not inherently violent or a waste of time and can be balanced with other activities to ensure a healthy lifestyle. As esports continues to gain mainstream acceptance, these stereotypes are being challenged and the benefits for students are becoming more widely recognized.

Gender and Diversity Concerns
Esports has traditionally been male-dominated and some may argue that esports programs do not promote diversity and inclusion. However, efforts are underway to address these concerns and promote more inclusivity in esports. Many esports organizations are actively working to create more opportunities for female gamers and to promote gender diversity in the industry. Additionally, some schools are implementing policies and programs to encourage a more diverse and inclusive esports environment. This can include measures such as actively recruiting female and minority students for the esports team, creating safe and welcoming spaces for all students and promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the program.

Legal Concerns
Legal concerns may also pose a challenge for schools looking to start esports programs. Schools may hesitate due to potential legal issues such as copyright infringement, licensing fees or liability concerns. To mitigate these risks, schools can work with game publishers and developers to obtain the necessary licenses and permissions to use their games in the esports program. They can also consult legal experts to ensure they follow all necessary regulations and requirements. Additionally, schools can require students to sign liability waivers and ensure that all equipment and facilities are safe and up to code.

The implementation of esports programs in schools is not without its challenges and pushback from stakeholders. However, by addressing these challenges head-on and developing solutions, schools can create a robust and rewarding esports program for students. Whether it be through seeking partnerships, promoting academic responsibility, addressing negative stereotypes or promoting diversity and inclusivity, schools can create a well-rounded esports program that benefits students in many ways. The key is to approach these challenges with an open mind and a willingness to adapt and overcome, ultimately creating a program that promotes student success both in and out of the classroom. As esports continue to gain popularity, it is crucial for schools to recognize the potential benefits of these programs and work to create a supportive and inclusive environment for all students to thrive.

Esports is Revolutionizing Education and Making Nerds Cool Again
In conclusion, implementing an esports program at your school can bring numerous benefits to your students, school and community. This new and exciting form of competition not only provides students with the opportunity to develop essential skills such as teamwork, communication, strategy and problem-solving, but also promotes an inclusive and diverse environment where students from all backgrounds can participate and thrive. Moreover, by fostering a sense of community and belonging through an esports program, educators can promote students’ social-emotional well-being and provide them with valuable opportunities to grow, learn and succeed in all aspects of life. Therefore, it is worth exploring the possibilities of starting an esports program at your school and taking steps to overcome any potential challenges that may arise. Through this initiative, you can help your students reach their full potential and prepare them for success in an ever-evolving world.

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