Esports Emerge as Learning and Social Catalyst in Schools

Ready Player One: Esports in K–12 edWebinar recording link


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It may lack sweat equity, but it’s up there with even the most physically demanding of sports. Esports, the competitive side of video gaming, is exploding. And K-12 schools are buying in because it’s not only fun but also a viable educational tool!

A recent edWebinar sponsored by Common Sense Education, “Ready Player One: Esports in K-12,” highlights why esports has taken hold in schools. Research-based evidence affirms its highly positive impact on students’ academic achievement, soft skills, and socio-emotional well-being.

Dr. Dennis Large, the director of educational technology for the Riverside County Office of Education, one among the first county offices in California to facilitate an esports league, knows first-hand the power of gaming in schools.

The county jumped on the esports train to heighten student engagement. Schools with gaming clubs boast substantial benefits, chief among them bringing disenfranchised students—often not participating in school athletics—into the community to be accepted and celebrated.

“Those esports members and players,” said Large, “carry just as much swagger, just as much social credibility as do any track stars or football or water polo stars,” he emphasized. 

County esports clubs sizes keep growing. Those that started with six or seven players are now at 150 members. Recently, the county sponsored its first league tournament: 50 school teams competed.

Students who once couldn’t wait for the school day to end now rush to after-school esports clubs, where they have friends, socialize, and build community while strengthening gaming skills. Truancy and tardiness have declined.

Kevin Brown, esports program specialist of Orange County Department of Education and North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), described how esports affects students’ overall well-being.

He cited to NASEF research illustrating gaming’s impact on student achievement.

Not unlike traditional sports teams, esports programs set scholastic output requirements: Students must maintain specific grade averages to participate. As a result, players tend to excel academically.

Esports bolsters Next Generation Science Standards-aligned competencies. Students improve math skills (applying mathematical theories and formulas to calculate gaming strategy), become more tech literate, and strengthen their scientific reasoning and problem-solving capabilities.

Brown described how students from other countries grow their English language skills as they communicate with peers in clubs and use games in coursework.

Students gain leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills that help them become college and job ready. In clubs, they are peer coaches, graphic designers, fundraisers, and game strategists, roles that build career competencies.


Players assume responsibility, win humbly and lose gracefully, form supportive and collaborative relationships, and self-moderate, all critical social-emotional skills. They establish harmonious partnerships and have meaningful conversations with peers and adults. They can sit with people who are equal to or maybe a bit better at gaming to learn from them, putting ego aside.

This may be hard to believe, but esports also builds students physically. They may not be running laps, but gamers do fortify hand-eye coordination, brain function, and rapid calculation skills. They also have a robust physical orientation in 3D worlds.

Does all of this esports-generated benefit have any value beyond school? Absolutely. Colleges actively recruit gamers for their esports teams (more than 170 colleges and universities participate in competitive gaming), courting them with substantial scholarships, which could total $100 million in 2020.

Esports is also a professional industry that in 2018, generated $906 million in revenue, and has the potential of reaching $3 billion by 2022. Millions of people worldwide follow esports. Some casual gamers are celebrities earning big bucks and garnering major brand endorsements.

If your school is ready for esports, follow the tips Brown and Large offer to jump-start a quality program. Be sure to use NASEF’s helpful resources to guide you.

Discovery – Reflect on the purpose and construct of an esports program. What goals and outcomes do you want it to address? What do you want the club to look like? What values should be promoted? (Take a look at NASEF’s!)

Stakeholders – All school community members (administrators, parents, teachers, students, counselors, board members) should be involved in the design of an esports program, with the understanding of its benefits and awareness that not all video games are toxic, Stakeholders create community standards dictating, for example, the types of games that can be played, what tournaments clubs can join, etc.

Technology – Ask yourself: Does the school have the technology to support games? If not, are there are funds to buy what is needed? Is there WIFI?  Is the school hardwired? What gaming platform should we use? Is there a campus IT coordinator?

Leadership – All clubs/teams require a general manager who is an advisor and keeps the group operational. Consider virtual college-level coaches that NASEF provides through Connected Camps. Decide how to recruit student leaders or support students who want to start an esports team.

Criteria and Code of Conduct – Clubs should establish charters that ensure its members properly compose and comport themselves during club time, at tournaments, etc.

Safety and Security – Ensure compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act. To avoid privacy and protection issues, consider using a console-based game room that is Internet free.

Inclusion and Diversity – Create opportunities for all students, especially those are that are underrepresented: girls, students of color, and the differently abled. Think about recruitment: Will there be an audition and roles for students who are not the best players?  

Game Selection – Brown’s response to students who want to play Grand Theft Auto? Never going to happen! Standard first-shooter games are typically violent, not good options for school esports. There are gentler choices like Overwatch, Fortnite, and Splatoon. To select the most age-appropriate games, follow the ESRB ratings, search for reviews that organizations like Common Sense Media provide, and peruse NASEF’s recommendations. Find out what students want and help them select games within guidelines.

Esports’ growing popularity, particularly in schools, validates what students have known for a long time—that gaming is awesome…on so many levels.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Common Sense Education.

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This article was modified and published by EdScoop and eSchool News.

About the Presenters

Dr. Dennis Large is currently the director of educational technology for the Riverside County Office of Education. In this position, he works with the school districts in Riverside County as they implement programs such as online and blended learning, personalized learning, and California State Standards and assessments. He is proud to have played an integral role in the development of the Leading Edge Certification program, the Technology Leadership Network, the Riverside County Google Camp, and the Riverside County Esports League. Previously, Dennis was an administrator for the Los Angeles County Office of Education for 13 years, where he did similar work around educational technology. Dennis also was a classroom teacher for 13 years, with experience in elementary, alternative education, and special education. Dennis recently completed his Ed.D. in educational technology leadership through an online program at Boise State University.

Kevin Brown thought he would be a lifelong hotelier, working with five-star properties like Four Seasons Hotels. He found his way into education after the massive shift in the hospitality market post-9/11. Kevin taught career technical education classes (primarily hotel hospitality and management) for the Orange Unified School District in California before being recruited to open a massive hotel project in Newport Coast, California. Kevin returned to career technical education just in time to catch the rising tide of educational restructuring through esports, where he puts his years of experience as a gamer, classroom skills, and a passion to meet kids where they are to the test every day. Kevin holds a business management degree from Argosy University and a teaching credential from California State, Long Beach, and he speaks more languages than most people have toes.

About the Host 

Jennifer Ehehalt is the Pittsburgh regional manager at Common Sense Education. She is responsible for helping school districts build a culture of digital citizenship among educators, students, and their families. She designs and delivers professional development for preK–12 educators that focuses on the implementation of Common Sense’s K–12 digital citizenship resources, along with how to integrate technology into the classroom. Through her work, she has had the opportunity to share best practices by presenting at ISTE, ASCD, PETE & C, IDEAcon, and GAETC.

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