Esports is a mammoth and growing ecosystem that includes game publishers, streaming platforms, products, leagues, tournaments and more, all of which add up to a $20-billion-a-year industry. It’s an engine that’s fueled by teenagers and young adults. In fact, more than 90% of teens play video games, and are increasingly flocking to the lucrative esports world.
So it makes sense that educators should tap into this phenomenon by engaging students in learning through esports. That’s exactly what Chris Woodward, a technology librarian in Grapevine, Texas, was thinking about when he applied for and received a special projects grant from the Texas State Library and Archives commissions.
The $75,000 in funding helped him start up the Esports Academy, which today includes 12 gaming PC stations, fiber-optic high-speed internet on a private network, a large library of game software, the latest consoles, large display screens, and all sorts of streaming and broadcasting equipment.
“It was designed to be a versatile space to give us the flexibility to use it in many different ways, such as hosting open play time for various groups (adults, families, teens, tweens), holding focused sessions for practicing things like communication, teamwork, and stress management, reservations for esports teams, tournaments, streaming, and other event,” he said.
But getting a program off the ground can be intimidating. It’s expensive to get started, and if you’re not a gamer yourself, you may feel out of your element. Woodward offers these tips for those wanting to get started.
1. Set your goals
Figuring out your basic goals for the program is an important first step. Woodward’s goal was to to support and advocate for the sport and create a space that would foster an environment of collaboration, team building, learning, socializing, entertaining, practicing and competing.
After you determine your goals, think about logistics, like how much time you or your staff can dedicate to the program. Ask yourself these questions:
- What ages of students will participate in the club?
- How many students will you be able to accommodate?
- Is there a particular skills you want to cultivate in the students?
- How often will the club meet?
- How structured will club meetings be? Will they be more formal, where participants can work toward a certificate or a specific game or competition? Or will they be mostly informal, allowing drop-ins and more.
2. Do a needs assessment
Once you have a better idea of your club’s structure and goals, consider the set up. The number of students participating depends not only on the available staff, but the amount of space.
Before you even start to look for funding, Woodward suggests organizations ask a few questions:
- Do you want your program to use consoles, PCs or both?
- Do you have access to high-speed internet?
- Do you need your IT department to be involved?
- Who is responsible for fixing and troubleshooting tech issues?
3. Find funding
Woodward acknowledges that setting up an esports program comes with a high price tag, which can be a burden on students and schools or community programs. Grants and donations are one way to fund the program. Here are a few sources to consider:
The North America Scholastic Esports Federation and the Varsity Esports Foundation are two esports organizations that offer financial assistance and grants. Other state or local esports organizations might also be able to help.
Companies, especially those focused on technology, often offer funding or scholarships. You might also tap them for equipment donations.
Not all gamers are teens. You might be surprised by the number of parents in your community who are gamers and might be interested in making a donation, volunteering to help out or joining a committee to help get the club started.
4. Choose curriculum
Esports clubs can be as structured or unstructured as you like. But having a curriculum, especially one that ties into learning standards, will help you get community support and maybe even funding.
The Varsity Esports Foundation (VEF) is a nonprofit that provides support to educators, funding and curriculum. The curriculum can connect esports to English Language Arts and the ISTE Standards.
There are many benefits to esports
When students are excited about a subject, they’re intrinsically motivated to learn more about it. An esports school club can have benefits far beyond the classroom or library. Chris Woodward experienced this as a teen. He taught himself networking basics in high school because he was motivated to host LAN parties for friends.
“Esports can cultivate traits like social skills, teamwork, confidence, stress management, staying calm under pressure, anger management, processing defeat, etc.”
Many teens who are drawn to esports don’t participate in traditional sports or school activities, so they may not have the same opportunities to learn those skills, he says.
If you’re looking for research that backs up these and other benefits of esports program, check out the International Journal of Esports.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability, a mission-based company providing digital citizenship education to students, parents and educators. She regularly plays games with her family and runs a gaming review website for parents.