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How Video Games Have Evolved to Become a Valuable Education Activity

Esports have grown to offer benefits to both the K-12 and higher education levels.
  • by Joe McAllister
  • Learning environment advisor at CDW•G | June 18, 2019

Educators who pay little attention to video games may be surprised to learn that they have become an important activity in many schools and colleges – and to the world beyond education. 

According to a 2018 report from Goldman Sachs, the global monthly esports audience is estimated at 167 million people — larger than the audience for either Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. By 2022, the report estimates, that number will reach 276 million, making esports competitive with the National Football League in terms of viewership.

Forward-thinking K-12 school districts and higher education institutions have gotten in on the action, creating esports programs that range from informal after-school clubs to scholarship-granting varsity college teams. For the moment, there’s still an opportunity for high schools and colleges to be early adopters of esports. However, if schools haven’t implemented programs just a few years from now, they’ll likely find themselves playing catch-up with their peers. 

It’s only recently that the national media have begun to pay attention to the phenomenon, but high schools and colleges across the country have been quietly building up their esports programs for several years. 

84%

The percentage of teens who have access to a gaming console at home

Source: Pew Research Center, “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018,” May 2018

K-12 Esports: Getting in the Game

Several national esports associations, including the High School Esports League (HSEL) and the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), have emerged to help schools support their esports programs and organize competitions. Additionally, a number of states have their own esports governing bodies, some of which organize state championship tournaments. It’s difficult to pinpoint exact participation numbers, in part because those numbers are growing so quickly. From 2017 to 2018, the number of schools represented by HSEL exploded from around 200 to more than 1,200. 

Esports is even making its way into the high-school curriculum. NASEF, for one, has developed four high-school English language arts classes centered on gaming. The classes, which have been approved by the University of California, each cover one aspect of the video game industry, with topics including game design, marketing and entrepreneurship. The group is also working on a career technical education (CTE) curriculum and is field testing several middle-school curricula. 

College Esports: Conquering New Levels

Esports has grown so quickly in higher education that some observers are calling the activity “the new college football.” Several national associations have popped up to help govern college esports, the most prominent of which is the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). While NACE focuses on varsity collegiate esports, an organization called Tespa helps to forge connections among college student gaming clubs across the country. At the most recent count, NACE included more than 3,000 student-athlete participants at more than 130 member schools. Tespa, meanwhile, has more than 270 chapters and more than 102,000 members and alumni. The pace of growth is dizzying. When NACE was founded in 2016, only seven colleges and universities in the U.S. had varsity esports teams. 

Smaller colleges have seemingly been quicker than large universities to adopt esports, in part because gaming offers a more level playing field between institutions than more established sports. A recent ESPN listing of varsity esports programs is dominated by schools from NCAA Division II and Division III, as well as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) — institutions including Bellevue University, Illinois College and Missouri Baptist University. While these schools could never hope to compete with the Alabamas and the Dukes of the world in major college football and basketball, esports offer them an opportunity to stake an early claim in a booming new area. 

Some schools have found that esports is a driver of recruitment (an increasingly important factor as the number of college-aged students in the U.S. has dwindled since peaking in 2013). After Good Morning America aired a segment about Ashland University’s esports program (before the school’s teams had even competed), the Ohio institution received applications from 500 prospective students — nearly enough to fill out an entire freshman class. 



To learn more about how your organization can build an esports program, read the CDW white paper “It’s Game On for Esports in Education.”

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