Ask most parents if their children’s school should start an esports team, and you’ll be met with reluctance. Video games? In the classroom? Absolutely not!
The reasons why pile up quickly. Some worry it could lead to their children spending less time on schoolwork and more time on screens. Others fear what their kids may wind up seeing and hearing in online gameplay. More than a few don’t even know what esports means.
I’ve seen up close how those concerns are fading while esports in education become more and more prevalent. At Mira Mesa High School in San Diego, California, which has launched an esports program, teacher Brandon Trieu has proven through the success of the team he coaches, the Mira Mesa Marauders, that esports are a valuable addition to the classroom. They instill important leadership, critical thinking, and communication skills that students carry with them throughout their education journey. Teachers and administrators in schools from coast to coast are recognizing the same lesson.
“I haven’t seen any drawbacks to it. I’ve seen kids be more attentive to their grades. They want to be a part of something,” Trieu says. “The family environment that we’ve created here, I don’t see what school doesn’t want that.”
Esports programs offer students all the benefits of traditional athletics, including evidence of increased engagement, higher GPAs, and a deeper sense of community, according to research conducted by UC Irvine Connected Learning Lab. Supporting esports in education gives students a leg up, empowering them to foster a passion for technology and innovation while allowing schools to integrate powerful hardware into their STEM and STEAM curricula.
When schools invest in esports teams, they’re investing in high-level hardware that also integrates into STEM and STEAM programs, which means students wind up having more opportunities to get hands-on experience and learn in-demand skills. The PCs and laptops used for esports have high-performance processors, graphics cards, RAM, and solid-state drives, among other cutting-edge features, so they transition seamlessly into the classroom for students to pursue their interests in professions and hobbies that require resource-intensive applications. Many of the skills that students develop by participating in esports also translate to STEAM and STEM career tracks, according to UC Irvine research: “Esports is a community that natively fosters acquisition and mastery of knowledge and skills that connect to high tech sector jobs not only in the games industry but also in data science, software and web development, social media marketing, and event organizing.”
While this may come as a surprise to teachers and school administrators who are more familiar with classics like Pac-Man rather than Valorant or League of Legends, the rise of esports in education is part and parcel with the widespread popularity of competitive esports. Colleges and universities like Miami University, which boasts one of the country’s top collegiate esports programs, offer scholarships to students who compete on their teams. The North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) has developed a framework for schools to launch their own teams, providing a supportive foundation to train teachers as coaches.
For students, esports teams are a way to make connections with peers and mentors through a shared passion. Roughly 3 in 10 Gen Z teens say that gaming is their favorite form of entertainment, according to a Deloitte study, and 70 percent say that gaming provides social and emotional benefits because it helps them stay connected to others. The researchers at UC Irvine reached a similar conclusion, finding that student participation in school esports teams leads to “significant feelings of connectedness across all levels of the program, from team to club to peers to the league as a whole.”
Success stories like Mira Mesa High School aren’t so much an outlier as a sign of a growing trend. At Oswego East High School in Oswego, Illinois, teacher and coach Amy Whitlock has also had a similar front-row seat to engaging underserved students through esports.
Students are proud to compete for the school’s esports team, Whitlock believes, which leads to deeper ties between themselves and their peers, their teachers, and their community. “They want to come to school. They want to be in school. They want to work in their other classes,” she says.
Of course, schools can’t just simply snap their fingers to create an esports team. It’s an involved process that calls for budget, space, infrastructure, and equipment, just like any traditional sport. Based on our experience, we recommend following these four best practices to help you set up your program for success.
1. Identify the core goals for your esports program.
What skills do you want the team to develop? How many students can you accommodate? What grade levels will be invited to participate? How often will the team meet, practice, and compete? By answering these questions first, you’ll give yourself a clear roadmap.
2. Every team’s equipment needs will be unique.
Find a reliable hardware partner with experience implementing high-quality devices, who can help you determine your equipment needs based on the goals of your program. For schools with dedicated space like computer labs, desktop PCs are a smart way to maximize your investment. At schools where space is at a premium, laptops are an effective way to prioritize flexibility.
3. The ambition of your program is a key factor.
A casual club with a limited budget should focus on equipment that ensures smooth gameplay, while teams that want to compete in and win tournaments should seek out high-performance hardware. Consider each piece of equipment: High refresh rate monitors, mechanical keyboards, and gaming mice offer competitive advantages, while infrastructure upgrades like ethernet jacks and a robust electrical supply that provide reliable power and connectivity are necessary for everyone from hobbyists to league champions.
4. Most of all, it’s essential that efforts are led by a motivated coach.
While it’s almost guaranteed that every school has students who would join a team, every program needs a leader like Trieu or Whitlock who is committed to fight for student interests and lobby for the budget, space, and equipment their team needs to succeed.
Myths about esports are still widespread. But that’s no longer a good reason to sit on the sidelines. As more and more schools choose to start their own teams and bolster their STEM and STEAM programs, they’ll discover what Mira Mesa High School and Oswego East High School already know: Esports don’t detract from the student experience. They enrich it.