Social media is a huge part of our everyday lives. We use it to talk with family and friends both near and far, and businesses depend on it for communicating and networking with supply chains, clients, and even rivals. While it can be used for good, opportunities can be lost because of behavior in social media, so developing digital citizenship skills per the ISTE Standards for Students is more needed than ever—for example managing one’s digital footprint (standard 2a) and engaging in positive behavior online (2b).
Esports and casual competitive electronic gaming is a billion-dollar industry, an emerging job market with opportunities for players, coaches, content developers, influencers, and traditional business roles like human resources. High schools and colleges are responding to the growth of this field by creating programs that can lead to career pathways.
Mentorship in esports clubs helps students build awareness of their digital footprint as a gateway—or obstacle, if they post inappropriate content—to future work in esports and other professional fields. Educators have an opportunity to utilize gaming to teach students to be positive digital citizens.
According to a recent study, a majority of young adults (77 percent of men and 57 percent of women) play electronic games. This passion can be channeled into developing important global professional skills through competition and social play, leading to transferal into academic classes, the workforce, and students’ personal lives. The social and emotional support alone can translate into positive impact on academics.
When coaches of school sports talk about their programs, a common refrain is that a key outcome is developing young adults with experiences that help them find professional and personal success in life. School teams, clubs, and organizations can help young people develop global professional skills around teamwork, perseverance, communication, and empathy.
Esport clubs can provide students with a positive social environment that includes quality mentors to help them experience and grow positive skills that can be applied in their educational and personal lives. Students also learn how to deal with cyber bullies and trolls and protect their privacy.
Getting Started With Esports
Beginning any program can feel overwhelming; starting small provides momentum and time to learn more and grow at your own pace. Here are a few tips to begin your esports journey.
1. Start with a gamer club: While forming a team may seem like the obvious place to start, consider beginning with a noncompetitive after-school club. This setting has many benefits, including maximizing access for more participants, flexibility with offering multiple game titles for casual experiences, developing digital citizenship skills through modeling and mentoring, and building strong relationships through a constructive social and emotional learning environment. A club provides students a place to explore different types of games, shout-cast competitive games between teams, and produce videos about the competitions.
Start a club by surveying students about their interest in organized gaming. Recruit students to help plan the club, and plan an information session for students and parents. Based on numbers of interested students, schedule club meetings for once or twice a week. Have student assistants help run the activities and intramural tournaments and leagues. Join the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) to get developed tools to get your club started. Here is a free esports quick guide with a checklist that I designed for use in the initial planning of your club or team.
2. Network to learn and grow: NASEF is a nonprofit organization that provides valuable resources to help schools start programs. While there are other organizations that provide support around team competitions and other opportunities, NASEF is also a place to learn and grow your team’s understanding of esports and gaming experiences. Having the background knowledge will make it easier to navigate the wide-ranging offerings of other organizations to identify what will work best for your school.
3. Join esports education groups via social media: The #EsportsEDU hashtag can be found on platforms like Twitter or Discord. Many gamer groups can be found specifically on Discord because it is a gamer space for networking through chat and video. Discord is also a valuable space for teachers and students to network with other schools. Many schools use it to provide space for students to meet others interested in the same game.
4. Run small tournaments, leagues, speed-runs, and design challenges: Use your students as a focus group to learn what works and where their interests are. This student data can be the basis for choosing which esports school teams to start with and for learning which students are interested in shout-casting and video production of games.
There’s a population of students who like gaming but not the PVP-style (player versus player) games that are common in esports. Popular options for them include speed-running, where the goal is to complete a game or puzzle level in the fastest time, like setting personal bests in track and field. Watch this video playlist for examples. Design challenges usually happen in Minecraft; two teams are given a build challenge to complete in a specified time. Programs like Girls Who Game run such challenges to build skills in collaboration, communication, and innovation.
Establishing a gamer club for esports and competitive games opens many opportunities for college and careers. Having a formal structure can help students practice global professional skills such as communication, collaboration, and empathy, which supports digital citizenship. With guidance from staff, students gain more growth than what they can achieve alone.