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The Impact of Esports Integration in Schools

In recent years, the world of competitive gaming, known as eSports, has skyrocketed in popularity.

Once considered a niche hobby, eSports has now evolved into a global phenomenon, captivating millions of players and spectators alike. Beyond its entertainment value, eSports is making significant strides in unexpected arenas, particularly - education. As schools integrate eSports into their curriculum and extracurricular activities, the impact on education is profound and far-reaching.

As someone who didn’t participate in many traditional sports, I can attest to how deeply ingrained sports have always been in school culture. They foster teamwork, discipline, and physical fitness, but they can also leave out those who don’t fit in. However, as the digital landscape continues to evolve, educators are recognizing the value of incorporating eSports into school programs. With the younger generation intuitively adept in the digital sphere, this has become an alluring and inclusive alternative.  What was once seen as a pastime reserved for leisure is now viewed as a legitimate avenue for critical thought, skill development and competition.

Schools around the world are establishing eSports clubs, teams, and even dedicated facilities equipped with state-of-the-art gaming equipment. And if they aren’t, they should. These initiatives aim to provide students with opportunities to engage in structured gameplay, hone their strategic thinking, and develop skills such as communication, problem-solving, and collaboration. And if you weren’t already aware, so many kids these days are playing competitively online, raking in dollars and dirhams through video game streams, especially with increased options to monetise content. GoHenry says “As many as 18% of US Children earn money through online gaming.

When practised in moderation, esports serves as a beneficial alternative to passive media consumption. Additionally, it fosters character development akin to traditional team-based activities. The integration of esports into schools brings about several significant impacts on education:

1. Fostering Digital Literacy: In today's increasingly digital world, proficiency in technology is essential. eSports offers students a platform to enhance their digital literacy skills as they navigate complex gaming environments, utilize gaming peripherals, and interact with online communities. As an IB English teacher, one of my fondest memories is using Minrcraft to teach creative writing techniques.

2. Promoting STEM Education: Many eSports games require a deep understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles. For example, games like "Minecraft" and "Roblox" encourage players to engage in creative problem-solving and basic coding. By incorporating eSports into the curriculum, educators can leverage students' passion for gaming to reinforce STEM concepts in a meaningful way.

3. Cultivating Social and Emotional Skills: Contrary to the stereotype of solitary gamers, eSports often emphasize teamwork, communication, and sportsmanship. As students collaborate with teammates and compete against opponents, they develop essential social and emotional skills such as empathy, resilience, and leadership.

4. Providing Career Pathways: The burgeoning eSports industry offers a plethora of career opportunities beyond professional gaming. From game design and development to event management and broadcasting, the skills acquired through eSports can translate into diverse career pathways. By exposing students to the various roles within the eSports ecosystem, schools can help them explore potential career interests and aspirations.

5. Fostering Inclusivity and Diversity: Unlike traditional sports, eSports transcends physical barriers, making it accessible to students of all abilities, genders, and backgrounds. In eSports, success is not limited by factors such as size, strength, or athleticism, allowing a more diverse range of students to participate and excel.

Despite its numerous benefits, integrating eSports into schools is not without its challenges. Some educators in my own school context, express deep concerns about the potential negative effects of excessive screen time, such as eye strain, sedentary behaviour, and social isolation. Additionally, there may be logistical and financial barriers to establishing eSports programs, including the cost of equipment, infrastructure, and coaching.

Moreover, there is ongoing debate about the legitimacy of eSports compared to traditional extracurricular activities. While some argue that eSports can complement existing academic programs and promote student engagement, others still question its educational value and advocate for a balanced approach that includes both physical and digital activities.

Harnessing student expertise to establish an esports program in schools holds immense potential for cultivating a vibrant gaming community and fostering valuable skill development. By tapping into students' existing knowledge and passion for gaming, schools can create a collaborative environment where students take the lead in shaping the program. Students can contribute their expertise in various aspects, including game strategies, technical know-how, and organizational skills, to establish competitive teams, organize tournaments, and manage the program's logistics. This approach not only empowers students to take ownership of their learning but also encourages peer-to-peer teaching and mentorship, promoting a culture of collaboration and shared success. Moreover, leveraging student expertise provides a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between academic learning and real-world application, as students apply their gaming skills to develop problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication, and leadership skills.

As the eSports industry continues to evolve, so too must our approach to integrating it into education.  By embracing eSports in schools, educators have the opportunity to tap into students' passion for gaming and leverage it to create meaningful educational experiences that can significantly impact the future. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of education, eSports stands poised to play an increasingly vital role in shaping the future of school programmes and of learning in general.

Written by, Sydney Atkins,Deputy Principal at GEMS Education, Designated Safeguarding & Child Protection Lead and NPQSL Facilitator.