Esports and Education: Looking Beyond the Money

on October 23, 2019
Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you have a Gen Zer in the house, chances are they are a gamer of sorts. Whether they play Minecraft, Fortnite, or spend hours on Twitch watching others play, they all are deeply invested. Common drivers are the fun of gaming, as well as the social impact that these games create in building teams and relationships with real-world friends or digital ones.

Over the summer, gaming became more than just fun for many kids following the Fortnite World Cup finals. Fifteen-year-old Jaden Ashman won half of the $2.25 million after coming second with his teammate. A few days later, sixteen-year-old Kyle Giersdorf went on to win the final battle taking home a $3 million prize.

If your child is as cunning as mine, I am sure you were faced with interesting conversations that outlined how your offspring’s gaming time could lead to wealth and success. While that might not necessarily be the case, it is true that the path to eSports as a career mirrors more and more that of a traditional sport, including the role colleges play.

Esports Scholarships and Courses

ESports scholarships have been around since 2014 when Robert Morris University in Chicago became the first university in the US to offer substantial scholarships for members of its Varsity eSports League of Legends team. The acceleration of this trend over the past year or so will get us close to 150 schools across the US and Canada by the end of 2019. ESports scholarships are very similar to other sports, with academics and merit playing a significant role in the decision of how they are allocated. Player skills, communication ability, and open spots on the team are also contributing factors to the decision.

More recently, the acknowledgment that eSports can be a full-on career drove some universities to go from offering scholarships based on gaming skills to offer eSports courses. These are courses that focus on prepare students to take advantage of the business opportunity presented by the growing world of eSports. The University of Staffordshire in the UK, Virginia’s Shenandoah University, Ohio State University, and Becker College in Massachusetts were the first universities to offer eSports courses at the start of the 2019 academic year that focus on a range of subjects from marketing to business management, to design and app content development.

There is a concern, of course, that these courses might be springing up to make colleges and universities look more relevant and attractive, rather than to provide skills for what might be a large job pool for the future. It is early to say, but there are certain skills that go with eSports that other businesses could benefit from, especially as the gig economy continues to grow.

K-12 Paves the Way

With scholarships and courses growing at the college level, it is no surprise we have seen more than 800 schools in North American join the High School eSports League reaching around 15,000 students in eSports clubs. Similar to the rise of robotics and STEM, we started to see eSports afterschool clubs roll out first. As the scholarship dollars grew, so did more formal elective courses that, like traditional sports, aim at preparing students to apply for some of those college scholarships.

With 70% of students identifying themselves as gamers, schools are hoping to build on this interest to offer students who might not be interested in traditional sports or might not be athletically gifted a different option to engage in campus activities. Similarly to other clubs and electives, the High School eSports League requires minimum GPA standards to participate.

Modern World Skills

Simply equating eSports to gaming, like equating First Lego Robotics to just coding, would miss the number of skills this discipline, yes I said it, it is a discipline, requires. Many of these games are team based and require a vast set of skills:

  • communication
  • writing for multiple purposes, and for different media formats
  • reading comprehensive information and directions
  • listening skills.

I would bet these are the skills any recruiter is looking for in both a leader or a team player. Branding, marketing, event planning, operational analysis, and strategy are all part of what eSports entails.

For schools, one of the appeals of eSports is actually that in most cases, there is no specific hardware requirement, but schools can plan to adopt multi-purpose computers and workstations. Hardware companies that cater to the education market see the opportunity eSports provide, but their involvement does not necessarily end with just providing the infrastructure to run the games and hold the classes. Often marrying their education leaders with their social responsibility advocates, hardware vendors look at the opportunity to help schools and districts to get started with eSports in the right way so that it is not just a fad but a truly new opportunity for kids.