What is Esports in Education & How to Build a Successful Program

Much more than just video gaming, Esports in education is the catalyst for building participants’ confidence and a wide range of academic and interpersonal skills. If your school doesn’t offer an Esports program, you’re missing out on an effective way to enhance the classroom curriculum, engage uninvolved students and foster inclusivity. But what exactly is “Esports,” and what does it take to start an Esports program?

Esports, short for electronic sports, is organized competitions where individuals or teams face off playing video games. In the education environment, Esports is an extracurricular team-based activity, like physical sports, but one that can be tied to a school’s curriculum, including STEM, computer science, business prep, and career and technical education.

Now that you know what Esports is, let’s look at the key steps to building an Esports program in your school.

How to Build a Successful Esports Program for Your School

Starting any new school initiative can seem daunting, but Esports especially so because most educators and administrations aren’t deeply familiar with gaming, its culture and its appeal to students. But the process can be broken down into manageable components that will help you take a comprehensive, strategic approach and get your program started off right.

Let’s take a look at four foundational considerations when building an Esports program:

  • Benefits of Esports ­& the Business Case
  • Space & Technology Infrastructure
  • Coaching
  • Program Funding

What are the Benefits of Esports in Education?

Before you can launch an Esports program, you need to gain buy-in from school or district leaders. Understanding the benefits of Esports will help you earn administration support.

The first question you’ll be asked is, “Why should our school start an Esports program?” The answer lies in the benefits of Esports for students and the positive impact when Esports is integrated into the curriculum.

Research and schools’ experiences show that elementary, middle and high schools offering Esports programs realize these benefits:

Improved academic performance. Participation in any extracurricular activity is a key contributor to higher classroom performance. Students juggling academics and Esports hone time- and project-management skills. They also are more attentive in the classroom, exhibit fewer challenging behaviors, and are absent less frequently as they don’t want to miss team practices or tournaments.

Increased student engagement and inclusivity. The opportunity to play their favorite video games draws in students who usually stay on the perimeter of the school community, including English-language learners and students with disabilities. Becoming a part of a group leads to a sense of belonging that students didn’t feel before. They look forward to school and may even gain the confidence to join other activities.

Enhanced social emotional learning. The team aspect of Esports helps students who have difficulty connecting with their peers. Along with gaining new opportunities to lead and mentor younger students, they see how their individual efforts contribute to team success and learn valuable lessons in sportsmanship, relationship-building and accepting failure.

Preparation for technology careers. Game design, coding, software development, IT operations, and cybersecurity are just a few of the potential career paths that students involved in Esports are exposed to. Marketing, event management and broadcasting are some of the non-STEM related careers where a student’s interest could be encouraged.

Positive public relations. All of the benefits mentioned above would make your school’s Esports program the feel-good story that local media love. An established, winning program isn’t necessary, as media can spotlight students’ positive experiences and contributions in establishing the program. And good press is music to any district decision-maker’s ears!

What Space and Technology Infrastructure Does Esports Require?

The beauty of an Esports program is that it can be tailored to your school’s available resources, both physical and financial. Working within those resources, you can make decisions regarding the following essentials of an Esports program.

Game selection. Tournaments are based on specific games which are geared toward certain ages. So first determine if your team will include elementary, middle and/or high school students.

Next, survey the students who will be playing. Gamers have strong game loyalty, so it’s best to choose games they are knowledgeable and passionate about. The games you select will dictate the space, equipment and connectivity needed.

Space. For practices and tournaments, you’ll need an “Esports arena.” But don’t be put off by the label. Yes, your arena could be a dedicated room used only by your team. But it could also be the computer lab that students use for classes.

You’ll also have to determine how many team members you’ll need to accommodate. Each team member will need a dedicated player station. If you are playing a game that has three players per team and you want to scrimmage on a regular basis, you’ll need six stations so each team member can play at once. This number will need to be adjusted based on the game your team is playing and how you plan on practicing.

Equipment. Each player station should be equipped with a powerful gaming computer with graphics card, large-screen monitor, keyboard, gaming mouse, and headset to communicate with teammates during game play.

Two nonessentials but worth considering: gaming chairs; and a webcam and microphone for play-by-play commentary, or “shoutcasting” – a great way to get other students involved.

Connectivity. There’s nothing more important to the success of your Esports program than reliable high-speed internet. Connectivity lags during a match could mar the entire event. Ideally, your computers should be hard-wired to the internet via a dedicated circuit to eliminate delays caused by network traffic. Work with your IT department to determine what your network can currently support and if any upgrades would be needed.

Who Coaches a School’s Esports Team?

As with any sport, a good Esports coach is someone with the skills to guide their players to improve their gaming performance individually and as part of the team, and the character to inspire them to respect the game and fellow competitors.

Your Esports coach will be responsible for leading productive practices and teaching players about strategizing game play as a team, as well as teaching the soft skills associated with teamwork, commitment and sportsmanship.

The practicalities of team management will also have to be handled, including scheduling practices and matches, ensuring equipment needs are met, and verifying that students are maintaining academic eligibility.

So where do you find an Esports coach? Perhaps a teacher who used to coach basketball is looking for a new way to get involved in student life. Or a staff member who is an avid gamer wants to share an activity with their middle or high schooler.

And while coaching experience and gaming knowledge would be beneficial, they are not prerequisites to success in Esports. Ultimately, your Esports coach should care about encouraging students to earn success and help make the Esports experience a positive one for all participants.

How Do You Fund Your Esports Program?

Equipment, games and tournament fees are the three main areas of expense associated with starting and maintaining an Esports program. Once you’ve determined your budget, here are some ideas to help you generate needed funds. Get students involved in planning and executing any effort and they’ll learn valuable leadership, communication and financial-management skills.

Traditional Fundraising. The tried-and-true method in education for decades, mainly because it works. Car wash, scavenger hunt, recycling drive, trivia night and selling healthy snacks during school events are just a few examples.

Community Sponsor. Local businesses, especially those owned by school parents or alumni, are often eager to support educational activities in their communities. In exchange for a donation, the business name could be on team apparel and on signs at team events.

Grants. Start your search with local, state and federal grants specific to Esports. But your Esports program can also be eligible for STEM grants and College and Technical Education grants when tied to your school’s curriculum.

For example, team up with computer science teachers to explore how new or expanded class offerings would benefit from the powerful computers needed for gaming, such as graphics design or programming. Sharing computers paid for by grant money is a win-win for everyone.

Esports Associations. Some national and local Esports associations offer free mentoring and even free tournaments for affiliated schools. While this won’t bring in money to your program, it would reduce expenses.

Want to Learn More About Esports in Education?

To learn more about launching, maintaining and growing a successful Esports program, and for a deep dive into all aspects of education technology, plan to attend the next National Future of Education Technology® Conference. The Esports Theater in the event’s Expo Hall will host presentations and product demonstrations around equipment, team organization, career paths and more.