Teaching Esports in schools transcends gaming

Nathan O’Grady
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A future career playing Space Invaders or Pong was a pipedream for many kids growing up in the 70s, though there’s no doubt many would have jumped at the chance had it been more realistic to make money from gaming. Today, the global esports market is valued at more than $1.5 billion, with top players taking home multi-millions at tournaments which fill major arenas. Not only that, but gamers such as MrBeast, PewDiePie, and Dream have become household names, earning a celebrity-status which rivals some A-list superstars.

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It’s clear that as the esports industry grows globally, people’s mindsets about online gaming are shifting. New research shows that 70 percent of parents would support their children in pursuing a career in esports, with almost one in five wanting to see esports-specific classes added to their curriculum.

A growing number of schools across the globe are already jumping on board, with entries to school esports tournaments growing exponentially year on year. Combining innovation, future skills and pathways to exciting careers, the introduction of esports in schools can only be a good thing.

My own love of technology began early in life. I was just six when my dad, an IT technician, taught me how to build computers. After university, I became an IT technician myself and got a job at a local college. It was there that I became curious about teaching, but my interest went one step further: how could technology be used to push education ahead?

Fast forward over several years teaching Humanities and Computer Science in schools, and here I am — a Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Esports Lead at a global online school. It’s a job so beyond what 6-year-old me could have imagined, it’s almost comical; but it’s a role that speaks to the very real aspirations of today’s young people.

One of the most fascinating parts of my job is seeing how gaming helps children develop key skills like teamwork, communication, problem-solving and resilience. Through working with our school’s very first esports team, I see students who are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and try again. Not only do these skills undoubtedly benefit children educationally but will be incredibly valuable later in life and in the workplace.

It’s through observing the way children play these games that the parallels between esports and education become clear. You start with a simple set of skills, and a simple objective; once you’ve reached your goal, you learn more skills so that you can meet more difficult objectives. As humans, we learn through play; with esports, the journey is no different.

If more senior leaders in education can see this connection, understand why children are playing games and that they will play games no matter what they’re told, the opportunities to enhance the learning experience in valuable ways are huge.

Looking ahead, a job in competitive gaming is now just as realistic as becoming a professional footballer. Young people aren’t only interested in playing, either. Many of my students have cited production, journalism, and player-support roles within esports as their dream jobs.

It makes sense then that when facilitating esports in schools, linking to the broader industry makes the learner experience even more valuable. As an example, we've hosted internal esports competitions giving students responsibility not just for playing, but organising the event, casting, commentating, and more. Opportunities like these not only bolster the value of esports in education but foster an understanding of it as a world, rather than one competing with traditional sports.

For tech enthusiasts like me, this couldn’t be more exciting. However, the stigma around video games remains alive and well. When we think of popular games like Call of Duty – a game designed for a more mature audience – it’s easy to tar all video games with the same negative brush. But not all games are created equal, particularly when it comes to their educational value. More innocuous but equally popular games like Minecraft and Rocket League are now used in schools and come with whole wings designed specifically for education.

The impacts of screen-time and online safety are further mainstays in the debate. However, as with any technology, moderation, intention, and understanding are key. When it comes to safety, there’s little difficulty in safeguarding online games in the same way we do with existing school platforms, and programmes designed for children make this especially straightforward.

Implementing esports into the curriculum opens opportunities for schools to engage with parents in the conversation. Schools can help inform families about which games are beneficial to children and work together to promote a safer and more responsible gaming landscape.

To me, innovation means driving things forwards with a purpose. As an educator, it means propelling education to new heights. Competitive gaming can engage students more deeply, enable more diverse learning experiences, and build skills that are valuable now and in the future.

We must remember that today’s youngsters will go on to create a world beyond what we can imagine. Like me, they’ll be doing jobs that today might sound like something straight out of a sci-fi film. It’s my hope that in the long run, esports in schools will be something that grows and grows; for now, I’m glad to be a part of the journey.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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