They’re just playing video games, aren’t they? Where is the educational value in this?
For the uninitiated, esports are mind-numbing, video games that have no place in education. But for many, the opportunities it presents are endless. And the evidence was on show at Bett 2024 in London, where it took up one of the busiest sections of the exhibition floor.
This is a possibility to ingrain finance, tech, management, coaching, sponsorship and marketing into educating a group of students who may previously have been unengaged. It’s a way to teach that is inclusive and enjoyable, as several The PIE spoke with emphasised.
“Like traditional sport it’s got the benefits of communication, teamwork, getting people to play, building friendships, [but] esports is slightly different as it’s really inclusive,” John Jackson, CEO Esports Wales, tells The PIE.
“There’s no gender divide, there’s no physical divide. Everyone can play together and it allows those communities to develop in schools and in educational spaces.”
Others at Bett suggested that you can usually guess what a learner of construction or a learner of hair and beauty would look like.
“But in esports, you’ve got individuals walking in with coloured hair and a unicorn top on, and somebody that would wear a brand of sport wear that might [make them look like they’re] going to watch a football match on a Saturday afternoon,” one attendee tells The PIE.
“Once they’re in that space and they’ve got that connection, that emotional currency of the gaming community and the skills that sit around the gaming community, it’s fascinating.”
While a stereo typical view of gaming, especially violent ones, is the association to negative behaviour, research has found that cooperative gameplay leads to social and civic behaviour benefits as well as gaming’s ability to “stimulate faster and more accurate attention”.
The improved spatial resolution that gaming is said to bring (not all research agrees) has also been linked to long-term career success and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The vice principal for curriculum at RNN Group, which runs three colleges in and around Rotherham in the UK, details the impact on students he has enrolled on esports courses.
“We were able to structure and create an experiential curriculum where learners are developing their skills, are applying their professional skills and their knowledge, with the ecosystems, the schools and the stakeholders we have at the RNN Group,” Mark Ryan says.
When the further education provider embraced first embraced esports in 2019 it was because “we saw an industry that was absolutely huge”.
“Over 90% of children and young people were playing games but actually this is an industry that included lots of different skills, professional skills, communication,” he continues.
“We are seeing many, many students progressing into HE that previously wouldn’t have”
It offers maps into multiple industries and careers, with qualification reforms (an esports BTEC launched in the UK in 2020 and several universities offer degrees) also encouraging more to continue to higher education.
“We are seeing many, many students progressing into HE that previously wouldn’t have,” Ryan adds. “Some individuals return into further education that wouldn’t have because of their passion of an industry that’s quickly, from a curriculum perspective, grown, developed into something that is really innovative, creative, adaptive.”
In the four years to 2023, the value of the esports global market grew by more than 70% to hit US$1.64 billion. In the US, the value tops $871 million, China $445.2m and Western Europe $205.8m.
“The amount of money and the viewership were bigger than the Super Bowl, which I found extraordinary,” Ryan adds.
Jackson points to digital, creative and sporting skills esports can provide.
“In regards to the creative [aspect], it’s things like graphic design, photography, videography, production. On digital – cyber is massive these days – so it includes everything from how you protect yourself online to digital analysis skills and with links to traditional sport, you’re looking at commentary, casting, video production, nutritionists, coaching.
“Then you have the spectator side. In some cases people come together to watch Rocket League, CSGo or Valorant in pubs and clubs.
“Esports has a lot of transferable skills,” he adds.
It also has the ability to educate individuals around sustainability and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Ryan proposes.
“It has a wider scope than just the stereotypical view that [students are] just sat behind a screen gaming and talking into a headset, competing with their pals, their friends and their colleagues in another country.”
The latest edition of the industry’s magazine, The Esports Journal, features articles on how a communtiy of players in Pakistan are now dominating international competition in the fighting game Tekken, and an analysis of India’s esport sector. Global brands – as well as universities – are already onboard.
The Esports Journal also has a piece on how the esport offshoot from UK premier league football team, Wolverhampton Wonderers, has become a “dominant force in the Chinese mobile esports ecosystem”. It is now being joined by Man City in the esport space.
And the opportunity has already been picked up by international education.
In 2021, a consortium of 60 Pacific Rim universities placed esports at the centre of operations at its digital technology hub in Hong Kong.
In Canada, St. Clair College revealed a CAN$23m facility in 2022 to attract aspiring students, gamers and esports enthusiasts.
Nottingham Trent University’s London location that opened in September last year has a £5m, 14,000 square-foot venue specialising in esports production and emerging technologies. It also hosts esports tournaments – similar to those on display at Bett – via partnerships with NUEL, the British Esports Federation and the Global Esports Federation.
In the US, the University of California Irvine is said to be a leader in esports research and led the way in the country, launching an esports program in 2016. At least 170 colleges and universities in the US now have esports options.
“No matter your learning need, no matter your age, your gender, if you’re returning to education as an adult, through higher skills and higher education or through continual professional development, it’s really encapsulates everybody. It’s very inclusive and very accessible,” Ryan concludes.
With the increased interest in technology stemming from the AI boom, Jackson says there has been a shift among traditional educators.
“If you look at pretty much any profession, there’s IT involved to some level”
“Gaming has had sort of a bad view in the last 20 years, I guess. The difference now is the development of the internet, the development of IT.
“Now if you look at pretty much any profession, there’s IT involved to some level. Educators are now seeing the value of having those digital skills.”
A recent Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt survey suggested that while many teachers do not feel equipped to use AI tools like ChatGPT in their classrooms, 58% would be interested in professional development and coaching around AI.
“[Students] are already engaged in esports. Why not bring that into an educational perspective and then teach them valuable skills from what they’re already doing?
“This is the new avenue… this is a great way to get [more people] involved with it.”
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