Growing up and attending school during the foundational period of online gaming, those of us who took on gaming as a hobby weren’t always treated well because of it. If you spent your time playing Halo, Starcraft, or Quake, you were very often stigmatized and told that you were “wasting your time.” Of course, we knew that wasn’t the case--after all, we were socializing, developing critical thinking skills and situational awareness, and having fun--but that doesn’t detract from the fact that our hobby sat firmly outside of the “mainstream.”
Today--and especially at the time of writing, during the COVID-19 quarantine--we live in a digital world, and so gaming has naturally worked its way into the public consciousness in new and important ways. Esports have grown exponentially in the last decade, and are now the focus of a billion-dollar industry. 98% of high school boys and 87% of high school girls identify as a “gamer” in some way, according to Pew Research, and access to esports titles in the form of free-to-play games has never been higher. And yet, most schools have not tapped into this near-ubiquitous field for the benefit of their students.
The schools that have, however, are flourishing. Esports programs at the high school level provide a place for students that have traditionally been marginalized to come alive. Many times a student who is thought to be antisocial or hostile to learning will find their way into leadership positions in esports teams, where they finally feel that they suddenly matter (when, of course, they always have). Stereotypes are destroyed as the love of gaming unites everyone, from the most socially distant student to the most popular students in the school. I’ve seen high school quarterbacks follow directions from a student who had nearly dropped out the previous year, and cheerleaders laugh and play with students who barely show their faces in the halls. Esports truly are the great equalizer.
Beyond just social interaction, esports are truly preparing students for future academic success and career opportunities. A good esports athlete is also a:
Esports athletes must communicate with each other in meaningful ways in order to succeed. Both on and offline, building chemistry, theorycrafting, and implementing strategies are paramount to success.
Esports takes what can potentially be a toxic environment and gives it the structure to instead become a bastion of sportsmanship. Athletes learn to treat each other with respect and pride.
Esports games require athletes to learn the intricacies of each game’s mechanics in order to succeed. They then have to be able to apply that knowledge to find the best route to victory.
Esports are incredibly fast-paced, which means that even the best strategies go awry. Athletes that can think on their toes and adapt to new challenges are the ones that come out on top.
Leader & Collaborator:
Esports, like traditional sports, allows for students to develop the skills to lead their team against their opponents. With guidance, these athletes will learn to humbly influence others, resolve conflicts, and find a way to win.
Esports takes a hobby that can be an escape and turns it into a sport that requires discipline. Just like traditional athletes, Esports athletes must learn to balance schoolwork with practices and competitions, as well as learn time management and organization to be successful.
At the end of the day, Esports should be another avenue to increase student engagement, provide equitable competition, and be a path to college and career readiness for all students. TEXSEF exists to help schools create their own programs and have a place to compete, and we hope you will join us on that journey.