While online games embedded into curriculum to promote learning is nothing new, the confluence of esports with education is a cutting-edge development in edtech. Not only can esports accelerate student achievement today, but it can potentially help address the ever-growing global talent shortage not only in STEM fields, but across a wide range of professional disciplines.
For those not familiar with the term, “esports” refers to multi-player video games that are played in a competitive, professionalized industry. There are leagues, teams, and specialists to facilitate both the playing and the viewing. Teams have essentially the same trappings as traditional sports teams—team colors, fans, celebrities, bling. Global spectators of esports number around 500 million, and tournament prizes for champions run into millions of dollars. Esports is currently a $1 billion dollar industry worldwide and is expected to grow to $5 billion within the next five years.
The value in education is that when played by students in a classroom, teams have to problem-solve by quickly identifying challenges and figuring out ways to overcome them. Esports teach essential life skills, such as team building, collaboration, communication, leadership, design, digital, and STEM/STEAM skills. Esports can massively increase student engagement, which in turn leads to better attendance and higher success in school.
Today’s students have grown up online, and according to the Entertainment Software Association, 76% of students under 18 and 92% of college students play games online already. Esports are popular among a wide range of students (including those that may not be interested in traditional sports). Thankfully students don’t have to excel at either video games or sports to excel at esports. One of the beauties of this emerging technology is that it’s so inclusive. It appeals to students with a wide variety of interests, abilities, and identities. Neurodiverse students can play. Students who are physically “differently abled” can play. LGBTQ+ students can play. It transcends the physical, socioeconomic, gender, and location-based limitations found in traditional sports. And unlike traditional sports, students don’t need to be able to buy expensive equipment (equipment is on-site at school) or have parents with the time and the means to drive them to practices and events. Esports are an equalizer, elevating the skills of students who have traditionally been marginalized, or just never given a chance.
The point of esports in the classroom is not to turn students into professional online gamers, but to give them the skills to prepare them for the workplace of tomorrow. Esports can create a pipeline to STEM-related career pathways, such as IT, engineering, digital design, game design, programming, and digital communication. And according to ISFE, the professional organization for Europe’s video game industry, girls who play online games are three times more likely to pursue careers in STEM.
The lessons learned in esports can also be applied much more broadly. In the business sector, esports skills can be applied entrepreneurship, general management, marketing, content production, strategy and analysis. In the health sector, esports can be applied to coaching, psychology, and sports medicine. Truly, the applications are endless, and edtech companies are taking note and offering opportunities for students to play.
Kerwin Rent, CEO of K-12 afterschool esports provider EliteGamingLive, says esports has a direct impact on kindness among peers, reduces behavioral issues, and helps kids develop new passions. Stride Inc, a private for-profit education management company in the U.S., has a high school esports league where students from such institutions as Ohio Virtual Academy, Nevada Virtual Academy, Indiana Digital Learning School and Alabama Designations Career Academy compete against each other in such games as “Rocket League” and “Fortnite”, with “Minecraft” coming soon. For universities, ties with high school esports leagues can be a chance to recruit and attract more and new types of students.
As businesses worldwide report a digital skills gap and more than a million jobs in STEM and tech unfilled, esports can be a one tool in the toolbox to help plug the skills gap and close the gender gap in STEM careers. It can help develop future-ready citizens by preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow.
Elizabeth Garzarelli has 18 years of experience doing retained executive search in the field of educational technology, spanning preK-12, higher ed, and adult professional learning. You can meet her in person at the eSports and Education meet-up at SXSWedu next month.