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From Controllers to Keyboards: A P.E. Teacher's Journey into the World of Esports

Like many people born in the 80s, I grew up surrounded by the rapid rise of the gaming industry...

I’m old enough to remember asking permission to use the internet and the melodic sound of the dial-up connection, something almost unexplainable by today’s standards.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were going to a friend’s house with a rucksack full of controllers in a bid to find out who was the true champion of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64.  As technology improved, we used more sophisticated methods and began to migrate to online gaming. When I say sophisticated, I mean we used MSN Messenger after school to set up games of Age of Empires online. As a once-promising rugby player, I had to fit it in between training and strength and conditioning but there was always room to balance it all.

My esports adventure had already begun, I just didn’t realise it at the time.

Fast forward to the current day, where once again I have inadvertently double-booked myself. The Hartland esports team has an international Rocket League fixture against a school in Russia, but my basketball team has a training session in the sports hall. The star of my esports team is finally available to play because the u14 football team has a bye week so he can temporarily swap his boots for a controller.

As a PE teacher by trade, I’m a somewhat unlikely advocate for esports. I’m often challenged along the lines of physical activity and healthy lifestyles. For me, it’s a false dichotomy. There’s no denying that esports is completely different from its physical counterpart. However, when I watch the students play, I see them cultivating so many of the skills they need to achieve success. In a forward-thinking school, there’s no reason why they can’t peacefully coexist.

As a Head of Sport, I have always placed inclusion and participation at the heart of what I do. In a world that is marked by exclusion, it’s so important that we explore as many avenues as possible to help students feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they belong. There’s no denying that esports offers an avenue for this. For some students, it opens the door to representing the school for the first time and an opportunity to feel the pride of pulling on the Hartland badge.

However, the growth of esports in schools seems to be continually stunted by unhelpful misconceptions. People often go to the default image of a poorly lit room with unhealthy gamers hunched over screens for hours at a time. A situation that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The esports classroom is a vibrant learning environment, a fertile ground for character development. There’s an audible buzz as students innovate and collaborate, they use tech skills to set up games, some of which are beginning to be streamed online. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t witnessed it first-hand to go in with open eyes, I was instantly hooked.

Although I was always a fan of computer games growing up, I’m far from an expert in games like Rocket League and Minecraft which are two of the most popular competition grounds in schools. Setting it up doesn’t require expertise, just a willingness to come and meet the students where they are. Many schools already have access to platforms like Minecraft for Education which is a brilliant starting point. There is also an ever-growing list of companies who are standing by to offer schools support in getting started without the need for expensive hardware purchases. Our programme is run out of a computer science classroom. Students have most of the skills already, they just need a supportive environment which schools can easily provide.

It’s also impossible to ignore the rapid growth of the esports industry. As a market that has already crossed the 4 billion dollar mark with some events recording a peak viewership of over 6 million people, the reach and opportunities are huge. Underpinning these events is a network of employment opportunities for students with interests in streaming, digital marketing and advertising.

While scepticism still lingers in education circles about the validity of esports, we must recognise that the future is already here. With so many of our students already actively participating in the esports community, there is a massive opportunity to grow with them. Take the chance to help them cultivate their skills in a safe and regulated environment and contribute meaningfully to the aims and aspirations of a team.