By any measure, esports is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.
Between 2017 and 2018, the global fan base grew 13.5 percent, to hit 380 million, according to a report from Newzoo and ESLGaming. Spending on tickets and merchandise grew 16 percent, to $95.5 million. That’s in addition to the $694 million that brands spent on advertising, sponsorships and licensing in 2018 alone.
Given this immense popularity — and the fact that many of those 380 million fans are young people — it’s inevitable that educators are considering the benefits of esports in academic and extracurricular activities.
In fact, a growing number of schools, such as Washingtonville High School in upstate New York, are creating esports clubs. Over the past year alone, the number of schools affiliated with the High School Esports League (HSEL) grew from about 200 to more than 1,200.
Esports offers an opportunity for all students — not just those who excel in traditional athletics — to enjoy skill-based competition. Case in point: Peng Chao, who’s become one of the world’s top gamers despite losing both arms in childhood.
For some students, esports is a way to express themselves and develop confidence in social engagement.
“I can’t tell you how many teachers and parents have written in about students completely turning around, coming out of their shell, smiling and having a good time,” HSEL CEO Mason Mullenioux told EdTech.
A growing number of studies suggest esports can help students learn how to multitask, solve problems, collaborate with peers and develop perseverance through trial and error. And despite the stereotype of gamers holed up in their bedrooms, a Harvard study even found that many of them eventually take up traditional sports.
“When I was younger, I only had Nintendo, and one of my favorites was the baseball game,” one student told the researchers. “And that’s how I really got into baseball. I probably wouldn’t have been so much in sports right now if I didn’t play some of the video games that I have.”
Esports Develops a Foundation for STEM Careers
Esports can also introduce students to career opportunities they and their parents might not have been aware of, such as designing and operating the audiovisual systems used to showcase and broadcast tournaments.
AV also demonstrates the overlap between esports and fields such as electrical engineering and broadcast communications. These crossover disciplines make it easier for schools to leverage student interest in gaming into STEM learning experiences.
Finally, esports can create opportunities for students who otherwise might not consider higher education. For example, this fall, the University of Missouri will launch an esports program that includes scholarships and one of the nation’s largest university gaming facilities. Mizzou is among the more than 125 U.S. colleges and universities with varsity esports programs — up from just a single program in 2014 — many of which offer scholarships for players.
The University of California at Irvine is bridging K–12 and higher ed with its High School Esports Curriculum project. Building on UCI’s Orange County High School Esports League, the project is “developing the first-ever four-year college prep course sequence that combines English language arts with key areas in career technical education (such as marketing, entrepreneurship and game design) to create an esports curriculum for high schoolers.”
Other colleges are tapping into students’ interest by developing new bachelor’s degree programs, such as game design and esports management. Together, all of these developments demonstrate that while esports is a fun way to help students develop valuable soft skills, it’s potentially much more than that: a path to a viable career opportunity.