A 16-year-old from Pennsylvania walked off with $3 million after vanquishing all of his rivals at the Fortnite World Cup this summer. Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf is just one of a growing cohort of young gamers that have become rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams.
Schools can no longer write off video gaming as a niche pursuit that detracts from students’ academic performance. Gaming is now a viable, lucrative career for thousands of youngsters, and schools should do more to embrace the esports revelation and prepare their students to succeed within this exciting sector.
Forging a path to superstardom
Competitive gaming is on course to rival traditional sports in the popularity stakes. More than 200 million people streamed the League of Legends World Championship Grand Final, which is more than the Super Bowl can pull in.
NewZoo reports that there are 454 million esports viewers around the world, including 201 million diehard fans and 253 million occasional viewers. It predicts that this number will rise to 645 million by 2022.
The top esports stars have high-end training complexes, sports psychologists, agents, managers, sponsorship deals, huge social media followings, and eye-watering bank balances. They resemble traditional sports stars in many ways, particularly in places like South Korea and Scandinavia.
Traditional sports like football, basketball, and tennis are all blessed with strong grassroots schemes that encourage youngsters to flourish. It is now time for more schools and local governments to get on board with the esports revolution and fund grassroots courses that give youngsters the opportunity to learn more about competitive gaming, develop their skills and forge a path towards superstardom.
The benefits of esports
Some might argue that schools and councils promote sports like tennis, athletics and football because they encourage children to exercise and stay healthy, whereas esports involves sitting around drinking energy drinks and eating junk food.
Yet that could not be further from the truth. The modern esports stars are athletes, and they need great dexterity, endurance, creativity, decision-making ability, determination and concentration in order to succeed. Gaming is useful for building up teamwork skills, communication and problem solving, while it is growing increasingly educational. Schools need to embrace this.
Schools are beginning to understand
Some are already launching trailblazing esports curriculums, and they can serve as a shining beacon of inspiration for their peers. Extreme Networks and eCampus News teamed up to survey 281 technical and administrative leaders across schools North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East and found that one in five now has an esports program.
A further 71% said are considering or might consider adding an esports program in the future, the survey revealed. The schools that are embracing it say it helps boost student recruitment and retention, prepares students for the job market and blends on-campus and online experiences in an exciting fashion.
“Esports quickly emerged as a global phenomenon, and we’re now beginning to understand the significant benefits it can bring to schools,” said Bob Nilsson, director of vertical solutions marketing at Extreme Networks. “Far more than a game, forward-looking educational institutions realize that esports programs elevate campus life, engage students, and foster new skills. With organizational buy-in and strong network infrastructure in place, schools across K-12 and higher education can kick-start their own esports programs and reap the benefits.”
Boosting the campus experience
League of Legends and Overwatch, the latest updates for which you can find at Unikrn, are the most popular games among schoolchildren, and they are two of the biggest esports in the world. Many schools have LoL, Overwatch, FIFA and Fortnite teams and clubs, and some institutions are even offering scholarships in order to attract the best young talent.
They say esports diversifies learning and improves the overall campus experience. It is not too costly either: most schools can launch successful esports programs for less than $10,000 per year.
A sense of belonging
The High School Esports League claims to have more than 1,500 schools across North America as members. It is becoming the extracurricular activity of choice for many students, because it is so exciting and dynamic, and they have grown up with technology.
Educators know that extracurricular activities boost student success, as it means they miss less school and graduate at a higher rate. It gives them a greater sense of belonging, makes them care more about their overall education and makes them less likely to spend their time smoking, drinking and taking drugs.
Inclusion helps students and the community. Some may think of gaming as an isolating pursuit, but it is actually extremely social. Esports are multiplayer games or pit solo gamers against one another, so they bring people together while creating vast online communities that interact on forums, social media and sites like Twitch and YouTube.
These strong social connections help promote better health and yield greater academic outcomes. To participate in school esports teams, students know they need to get the right grades in academic subjects, so it gives them the motivation to succeed and helps them develop time management skills.
Time to take the plunge
Esports also boosts STEM learning, helping youngsters grasp science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “Its something that is unique compared to traditional athletics, how much we over index in the STEM field,” said Michael Sherman, director of collegiate esports at LoL publisher Riot Games. “Although we don’t think there is one type of student that makes up top League of Legends talent, 62% of our participants are from STEM majors.”
That compares to a US national average of 36% of undergraduates in STEM learning. Succeeding in esports is seen as akin to solving a mathematical or scientific problem.
Many colleges are now running esports courses and they have big teams, but the majority are yet to take the plunge. By failing to get involved in esports, they are denying themselves a significant recruitment tool and preventing their students from enjoying campus life to the maximum.
It is time for all schools to embrace esports, and for local governments to inject funds into promoting a healthy local scene. It keeps kids out of trouble, it helps them learn, it brings them together and it could make them into millionaires, so it is a no-brainer really.