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Benefits of an Esports Team: K12 & Higher Ed

Starting an esports team can yield many benefits for a K12 or higher education institution, but those benefits aren't fully understood yet. This article helps identify the value that an esports team brings to a K-12 or college institution.
January 24, 2020

What is Esports?

Before we can begin to understand the benefits of esports within educational institutions, let's explore this emerging arena itself. Esports, short for electronic sports, is the rising field of competitive video gaming. Players compete individually or on teams in popular video games such as FortniteCounter-StrikeDota and others. Games are played either on PCs or consoles, depending on the game’s availability. For example, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a popular esports fighting game, is only available for the Nintendo Switch.

Much like traditional sports, the esports industry presents opportunities for athlete sponsorship and the chance to become a professional. In other words, kids who grew up hearing that “playing video games isn't a profession” may have a bone to pick with some people. Similar to other professional sports, esports has a vibrant and growing high school and college scene in addition to the professional one.

The following are some of the most common types of video games played in the esports realm:

Strategy Games: These types of games are exactly what they seem — multiplayer games in which teams must strategize to determine the best ways to beat their opponents to capture their competitors’ territory. These can include real-time strategy games, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, card and deck building games and auto battlers.

Examples: Starcraft, Warcraft III

Shooter Games: This classification of games can include class-based shooters (characters with unique abilities that offer special advantages to players), battle royale games (up to 100 players compete against one another in a giant arena with whatever they find and using whatever resources they collect) and squad-based shooters (teams competing against one another in an environment, sometimes completing an objective such as capture the flag).

Examples: Call of Duty, APEX Legends, Fortnite, Counter-Strike

Sports Games: Sometimes referred to as sports simulators, these games are the digital recreation of popular sports including football, soccer, basketball, racing, boxing and more. These games are celebrated for their realism as well as their long lineage in esports history.

Examples: FIFA, NBA 2K, Fight Night, Madden

Fighting Games: These games involve players squaring off against each other individually or on a team. These games can trace their esports heritage back to the days of arcade cabinets when players would wait to take on one another, quarters at the ready. The fighting games genre has evolved significantly since the arcade days, but the core gameplay philosophy has remained the same.

Examples: Super Smash Bros.Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, Injustice, Street Fighter

Role Playing Games: In these games, players assume different types of roles within a fictional world. Role playing games include many types of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG) in which teams adopt different characters and compete against other teams in a fictional realm.

Examples: League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Dota 2

Other Games: There are some games that are not as prominent in the esports scene but still deserve recognition. For example, rhythm-based games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero are not as popular in competition, despite making waves during their respective periods. However, they did pave the way for new rhythm games such as Beat Saber. VR competition games, such as Robo Recall and the aforementioned Beat Saber are becoming more popular, but VR technology has not taken off yet to the point where these games are part of mainstream esports. Retro and arcade games, such as Tetris and Donkey Kong still hold a place in the hearts of many older gamers, though their appearance in the esports scene isn’t common, and you likely won’t find a college or high school team competing in these games.


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5 Must-Know Facts and Statistics about Esports Today

Esports has continued its evolution into the mainstream, and there’s plenty of data and statistics to support that movement. Knowing exactly where esports stands today is crucial to understanding where it will head tomorrow – essential for those who wish to launch an esports team or program of their own. While this is not an exhaustive list of statistics, here are five key numbers we found that show you exactly where esports fits today, and where it might head tomorrow.

·      Almost one in four people have watched an esports tournament recently, according to an October 2019 survey published by eMarketer. [Source]

·      46.2 million people in the US are projected to be esports viewers by 2023, noted in a March 2019 eMarketer report on esports. The report notes that this would be more than a 50% increase from 2019. [Source]

·      63 million sports viewers watched esports in 2018 which is on par with the NBA at 63 million, and only eclipsed by Major League Baseball (83 million) and the National Football League (139 million). This comes from the same March 2019 esports report by eMarketer. [Source]

·      There are 186 collegiate esports programs around the United States, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports school directory. This list will continue to grow as more colleges begin rolling out their own esports programs in the near future, and across other collegiate esports leagues and organizations. [Source]

·      $16 million in college scholarships was offered to gamers in high school during the 2018-2019 school year. These scholarships were offered by higher education institutions looking to recruit for and expand upon their esports program. This was highlighted in a September 2019 article on high school esports, published by NBC News. [Source]

How schools and colleges can build a robust esports program


How Schools and Colleges Can Build a Robust Esports Program

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Benefits of Esports for Students

The benefits of esports for K-12 students are wide-ranging: 

1.    Fostering an Interest in the Gaming Industry: As with traditional sports, there’s no guarantee that an esports athlete will be able to become a professional. However, a well-rounded esports program can help build long-term interest in gaming and technology careers. Students may discover an interest in programming, design, software development, IT operations and other areas, simply through exposure in a creative, enjoyable environment.

2.     Students Develop Better Social and Behavioral Skills: Esports demand different competencies depending on the games being played, and that can develop different social and behavioral skills. For team-based games, students can learn collaboration and communication skills in order to be effective in winning their match-up. For puzzle-mechanic and strategy games, students can expand upon strategic thinking and problem-solving traits. Almost all esports games demand a certain amount of twitch reactions and reflexes, which drives awareness and decision-making development.

3.      Students Also Develop Sportsmanship: Have you heard the phrase "win with humility, lose with honor?" Maybe not – I think I just made it up. But it’s true – you always want to win gracefully and take every loss in stride. It’s part of good sportsmanship, and something that esports team athletes can learn in this competitive setting. While this lesson is typically taught through traditional sports, esports now present an opportunity to impart this key lesson onto students who may not have had a previous interest in sports, and therefore may not have had as many chances to learn the value of sportsmanship.

4.     Improved School Performance: It's no secret that students involved in extracurricular activities such as clubs or traditional sports perform better in the classroom. Students typically need to maintain a certain GPA in order to remain involved in their activities, and that involvement teaches them how to prioritize responsibilities and develop time management skills. Esports, in this regard, is no different – it’s something to keep students involved, but also something to teach them organizational skills outside of the esports arena. According to an article from the Chicago Tribune, activities provide students “with a sense of belonging” and make them feel “that they’re a part of something”, and involvement has been associated with “higher math and English grades, improved grades and homework completion, better performance on math, reading and science tests, and an increased likelihood of applying to college.”


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Benefits of Esports in Schools

The benefits of esports extend not only to individual students, but also to educational institutions on the whole:

1.      Greater Student Involvement: Keeping your students involved can be daunting. Today’s students have a wide range of interests and nuanced tastes. Developing an esports team or program at your school can help reach groups of students who may feel that there’s no organization that is "just right" for them or one for which they show passion. It’s an assured way to pique the interest of students who may have not been reachable before, getting them more involved and feeling more like a part of a community.

2.      Better Exposure for the School: Esports, in its latest iteration, is relatively new. Long gone are the days of competing for high scores on a Pac-Man or Donkey Kong arcade cabinet in the corners of movie theaters and pizza shops. Esports has become modernized—and even mainstream. But it’s still being understood by many who see it as a viable way to create new communities but don’t know where to start. Becoming an esports pioneer can yield plenty of positive exposure for your school, from media outlets that will want to learn more about your team to students and parents who will be discussing this new program among their peers and communities. Esports can shine a positive light on your school, and in doing so drive new opportunities for programming and involvement.

3.     Fosters an Interest in STEM Programs: Your students aren’t the only ones who benefit when they find new interest in STEM classes and programs. You can help set your students on different career paths that could help them stay motivated for college and beyond. Growing an interest in STEM programs among your students helps enable your school to lead the way in academic advancements, and it also provides students with continued opportunities that capture their interests.

4.      Improved Graduation Rates: Increased involvement in academics, increased performance and increased participation in extracurriculars from more students mean one thing: increased graduation rates. It’s easy to see why graduation rates would be positively influenced by an esports program, as it increases opportunities for students to become more involved and connect more with their schools.

Benefits of Esports in Higher Education

While esports in universities offer many of the same benefits as they do for K-12 institutions, college esports have some additional unique advantages:

1.      Greater Control Over Where the Program Lives: Esports has been on the rise, but the NCAA won’t be making any decisions on the direction this new sport takes right now. The NCAA announced in May 2019 they would not be regulating collegiate esports programs, instead allowing third-party organizations to run operations on esports. For colleges, this actually gives them a certain degree of control regarding where the program lives within the university hierarchy. More established esports programs could rest under an athletics department umbrella, whereas an organization just getting started and “dipping its toes” into the scene could fall under student activities. Funding, requirements and expectations will differ based on college and setting, but this benefits colleges that may want more control for implementing their program at their pace, rather than following a more rigid set of NCAA-mandated standards.

2.      New Scholarship Opportunities: While this may impact high school students looking to use esports as a way to gain admission into college (and pay for it), consider how being able to offer a scholarship for esports will help your ability to recruit. Not only will this open the door for many new prospective students, it also gives your institution an opportunity to increase enrollment and recruit for esports players who bring as much to the classroom as they do to the keyboard.

3.      Increased Retention: Being able to offer a unique activity not found in many places can help colleges retain students who may otherwise feel disconnected from the community and consider transferring or dropping out. This is a win/win – students feel more involved in their school, and the school has an opportunity to provide involvement for students who otherwise may not have an interest to explore, keeping them a part of the community
in the process.

4.      Continued or New Interest and Growth in STEM Programs: We mentioned an introduction to STEM programs deriving from esports above, but that was in high school. For students whose interest was captured, college esports paired with college classes means they can continue fostering their interest in STEM programs as a potential degree, and eventually career. Likewise, many students who didn’t have the chance to gain exposure to esports in high school may now receive that opportunity in college, opening a door for them to declare or change a major in a
STEM-related field.

5.      Build a College Reputation: Esports is new enough where colleges that help blaze a path in this competitive frontier may find themselves to become a household name for collegiate esports. Similar to Notre Dame in football or Kansas in basketball, colleges could become the desired destination for these rising athletes by starting — and fine-tuning — their esports program now.

Start building your esports program with these products:

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