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'Engaging, empowering, confidence-building – why schools should get involved with esports'

Esports are growing in popularity with young people. Dominic Sacco of the British Esports Association explains how schools can benefit by getting involved.

That old idea that video games are played by solitary teenagers in darkened rooms couldn’t today be more from the truth.

Today esports is almost a $1bn industry and the global esports audience is set to reach 380m this year. The phenomenon is very popular with young people and gamers.

But how can we engage with the younger generation beyond playing games and watching them? How can we instil a safe introductory environment, get schools involved and educate around the careers esports offers?

Sunderland College Seers – ones of 2018's successful school esports teams 

Last summer, the British Esports Association held a pilot after-school esports club each week at Maida Vale Library for school children in the local area.

Players formed teams and played against each other in Rocket League, a 3+ game that involves using rocket-powered cars to shoot giant footballs into goals. British Esports also educated participants on other areas of esports, such as casting (commentating), coaching and content creation, as well as hosting a Q&A for students, teachers and parents about esports’ benefits and industry opportunities.

Children and organisers identified several benefits and skills that the esports pilot promoted, including strategic thinking, teamwork, communication, leadership, performance skills and confidence. These skills are transferable and can benefit children in other areas, such as schoolwork, physical sports and general wellbeing.

So what actually is esports? 

  • Esports (electronic sports) is essentially competitive video gaming: human-versus-human matches where participants play console or PC games against each other to beat the opposition and win.
  • Tournaments usually consist of amateur or professional gamers competing against one another for a cash prize, and matches are usually livestreamed on platforms like Twitch, allowing spectators to watch live online.
  • There are more than 30 different esports games, including sports titles like FIFA, shooters like Call of Duty and battle arena games like League of Legends and Dota 2.
  • Playing a video game is not the same as esports. What makes something an esport largely comes down to the competitive and spectator elements.
  • Despite the name, esports is not necessarily a sport. It may share elements with traditional sports (being the best, playing to win, spectating matches, having fans etc), but esports is currently classified in the UK as a game, similar to chess. Other countries may classify it differently.
  • If you want to get a feel for esports first-hand, go and have a look around Twitch for live matches (not general streamers – esports tournaments are not to be confused with streamers and YouTubers who play online and stream their gameplay to their viewers, though some may be competitively-focused or top esports players themselves). 

Read Parent Zone’s guide to esports here.

The benefits were clear to see. Some of the children who were quiet at the start or had learning difficulties, were completely engaged, communicating with their teammates and having lots of fun by the end of the session.

Aside from the cognitive and developmental benefits, esports can give schools an exciting new activity, allowing them to connect to other schools, take part in fun tournaments and engage with their students in a new way.

Esports, as a digital activity, should of course be done in moderation, as part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Perhaps one or two hours of screen time each day or every two days. Top esports players will have strict gym and exercise and sleep schedules, and some even have their own chefs cooking them healthy and nutritious meals.

The Crypt School – winners of Ukie's Digital Schoolhouse tournament

How can schools get involved in esports?

Over the past few years, there has been plenty of new opportunities and tournaments emerge for students and schools to get involved with.

The Digital Schoolhouse tournament, organised by UK games industry trade body Ukie, kicked off in 2017 and has just finished its 2018 tournament. Last year it used Rocket League – won by St John Fisher Catholic Voluntary Academy – and this year focused on Overwatch (won by The Crypt School).

The Digital Schoolhouse initiative was originally set up to promote to pupils and teachers with the computing curriculum, to bridge the gap between industry and education, and to prepare the next generation for the digital age. Its esports tournament has demonstrated esports careers to students and held a fantastic competition with the finals at Gfinity’s state-of-the-art esports Arena in London.

Solihull School, joint winners of the pilot 2018 British Esports Championship

Then there’s the British Esports Championships, a new competition for schools, colleges and pupil referral units that starts in September and runs for the 2018-19 academic year. It has just completed its pilot – won by Solihull School and Sunderland College – and will be gathering feedback for the full championships starting later this year.

At the higher education level, there’s the National University Esports League and National Student Esports which allow university students and teams to take part in tournaments. Also, there are universities like York and Staffordshire now offering esports degrees or modules.

Beyond this, there are plenty of great esports tournaments in the UK, from the ESL Premiership to the Gfinity Elite Series, as well as events like Insomnia, epicLAN, GAME Belong Arena Clash tournaments and more.

There’s of course the opportunity for schools and colleges to test the water with their own esports clubs, and for teachers and students to organise matches from home.

It’s an exciting time for esports in the UK right now, and over the next few years you can expect many more educational institutions to get involved.

The British Esports Association is a not-for-profit organisation set up to promote grassroots competitive gaming.

The British Esports Association's CEO Chester King will be speaking at the Digital Families 2018 conference on 10 October. Find out more here