I get this question all the time. Esports provide significant opportunities for student development. Essentially, esports are an extracurricular activity that builds community and creates a sense of belonging. It also helps develop students’ interpersonal skills. Most games are team based, so students need to collaborate. There are opportunities to foster teamwork, leadership and perseverance — the same skills we know and love in traditional sports. Plus, it's an activity that appeals to the widest range of students, no matter your age, gender, socioeconomic status or ability. Esports are for everyone.
In terms of hard skills, students have the opportunity to gain experience in different careers, like IT, broadcast and video editing. And, students who participate in extracurriculars tend to have higher GPAs and attendance rates.
I wish people knew how prevalent esports are. There’s a $50 million arena being built in Philadelphia, a $300 million arena being built in Toronto and a $30 million arena being built in the South Side of Chicago. Esports are growing across the country. You can't dismiss it as “just video games” anymore. It's a culture. It’s a community. Schools, parents, companies and students all need to understand that.
I also want people to understand how on-campus esports programs foster inclusivity. It's really important to have on-site spaces to include students of low socioeconomic status. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs or students playing from home exclude people who don’t have access to these resources.
Planning is critical. There are a lot of situations where schools spin up a program and roll with it. That’s great, but how are you going to empower students’ soft skill development? How are you going to provide those opportunities in technology, marketing and graphic design? Small programs are a great start, but schools need to plan the program as an academic venture to take advantage of all esports can offer.
I help schools, libraries and recreation centers — really any space in the public sector — understand what esports are and why they’re important. I answer questions, such as “How do I create an esports team?” and “How can students benefit from esports?” My primary responsibility is to be an esports consultant and a resource for organizations, because there's not much end-to-end support available. I'm in a position where I can, and absolutely, want to help.
I'm a second-generation gamer. When I would wake up from a nightmare as a child, I'd have to wait until my mom finished her Tetris level before she would comfort me. Plus, I'm hypercompetitive. I'm the third of four kids, and I wrestled in college. Those traits combined when I started playing games like World of Warcraft and Magic: The Gathering.
I've been a hardware nerd my entire life. When esports began gaining traction in education, schools didn’t know what equipment to buy. I ran a gaming club when I was a high school teacher and was also the wrestling coach. When I discovered competition leagues, I did extensive research and interviewed dozens of higher education and K–12 schools about their programs to learn how they worked and how I could help.
The best part of my job is the impact on students. I was a math teacher. Now, I work with students in a different way by convincing school boards, principals and athletic directors that esports have a lot of merit for developing students’ soft skills and providing career and college pathways. I'm reaching more students than I ever would if I were teaching at one school. It’s the drive for what I do and the reason I'm so passionate.
Esports in schools will only grow from here. We're still in the first wave of adoption. The old stereotypes that video games will rot your eyes and are for lazy kids are quickly dying.
We’ll also see a push for esports in middle schools. Kids at that age can benefit immensely from this type of organization — especially with social and emotional learning. Esports provide an opportunity to teach those social skills and offers a space where they can develop those interactions.