The Rise of Esports in Schools and Universities: Unleashing Skills Beyond the Game

12 October 2023

In 2022, the global esports market was valued at USD 1.42 Billion, this thriving industry is expected to hit USD 4.47 Billion by 2030. After two years of people forced to spend more time indoors, this sub-segment of the entertainment industry is the fastest growing and it is not about to stop any time soon.

Esports has transcended its status as a mere pastime for gamers, becoming a global phenomenon that has found a prominent place within the educational landscape. In recent years, this captivating fusion of competition, technology, and teamwork has taken schools and universities by storm, fundamentally altering countless students’ extracurricular and academic experiences.

Strategically positioned at the very intersection of students’ interests, esports has unlocked an array of opportunities previously uncharted in their educational journeys. It serves as a gateway to unexplored career paths, offers access to higher education, and cultivates essential life skills in a comfortable and familiar environment. Through esports, students develop invaluable qualities like teamwork, effective communication, strategic thinking, and in-depth analysis, all while pursuing their passion.

More than just playing a game

On the surface, and to most audiences, esports looks like a simple act of playing computer games. However, it has now transformed into both a group and individual activity that plays a role in honing skills that are not only vital in the gaming arena but also in their classroom, institution, and future workplace.

Teamwork and communication

Students engaged in competitive gaming quickly discover that effective teamwork and clear communication are the linchpins of success. Just like in traditional sports, esports teams must coordinate their movements, share information, and make split-second decisions. In fact, it has been found that action video gamers are up to 25% faster at decision-making. These experiences in teamwork and communication are highly transferable skills that extend beyond the gaming arena, preparing students for future professional endeavours.

Problem-solving and analytical thinking

Moreover, esports isn’t just about fast reflexes and flashy moves; it’s a cerebral pursuit that demands strategic thinking and problem-solving. Many popular esports titles feature complex maps, objectives, and resource management, forcing players to devise and execute intricate strategies. Students who immerse themselves in esports hone their ability to analyse situations, anticipate opponents’ moves, and adapt on the fly—all skills that translate seamlessly to academic challenges and real-world decision-making.

Creation and creativity

Flipping the script, the art of creating games is also a huge drawing point for many. Steve Issacs, Education Program Manager at Epic Games, the minds behind the global sensation Fortnite, suggests that game technology itself is enabling a new wave of content creation and a space where students learn through creating rather than simply playing. Enabling students to grow their creativity and explore different industries with the use of simulation and experience design.

Unlocking pathways to tertiary education

Whether it’s high school leagues or collegiate tournaments, embracing esports as a legitimate pursuit is transforming how students approach their education and even their career aspirations. The growth of teams and spots for players, specifically in universities, has allowed students to turn their skills in gaming into a pathway to higher education.

According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), there are over 170 U.S. colleges and universities with varsity esports programs. The demand for top talent has never been higher. In 2020, more than USD $16 million in esports scholarships were awarded by U.S. colleges, influencing great growth in high school teams aiming to get their students into tertiary institutions. Additionally, it is not just institutions offering scholarships. Esports tournaments themselves are offering scholarships as prize money.

The heightened attention that varsity esports has gained has also exposed students on these scholarships to a bigger platform. At the varsity level, they get the opportunity to play against highly skilled opponents, and the attention given to such games may just place them centre stage for a professional esports athletic career after graduation.

Esports and STEM: Bridging the gap to future careers

In recent years, esports has emerged as a powerful bridge to STEM education and future career prospects. The world of gaming is inherently steeped in technology, from the design and development of video games to the intricate hardware and software configurations.

Students get hands-on exposure to computers, learning about the way they function, and the impact that different components such as the CPU, memory card, and cooling system of the device have on their performance. This immersion in technology could spark an interest in STEM disciplines, making subjects like computer science, engineering, and data analysis more accessible and engaging for students who might otherwise have remained distant from them.

Furthermore, the esports industry itself has burgeoned into a multi-billion-dollar global phenomenon, creating a wide array of career opportunities. As students participate and gain exposure to not just the player side of games but also the behind-the-scenes workings, they find themselves well-positioned for roles such as game development, streaming, esports management, event production, broadcasting, marketing, and journalism. The demand for skilled professionals in these areas is steadily rising, and educational institutions that embrace esports are producing graduates with the practical knowledge and passion necessary to thrive not just in this dynamic industry, but in similar roles in other industries as well.

As esports continues to enthral students and educators alike, it’s clear that this digital revolution within educational institutions is not without its share of challenges and cautions. Balancing screen time and fostering a healthy relationship with technology remains a constant concern. As esports programs expand, it’s imperative that institutions provide adequate support structures, including counselling services, guidelines for responsible gaming, and activities to cultivate healthy cyber habits and digital citizenship.

There are also growing concerns, that both esports programmes, the availability of scholarship opportunities and professional positions are creating some sort of ‘access gap’. More than 80% of esports-tied scholarships are going to men, and often from more affluent schools where access to top-tier tech and tools is a given.

The rise of esports is not just a trend; it’s a testament to the evolving nature of education in the digital age, empowering students to embrace the challenges and seize the opportunities of tomorrow. It equips students not only with gaming skills but also with a versatile skill set applicable to various aspects of life and in the workplace. It has carved out a new pathway to STEM careers and continues to provide a diverse set of opportunities in both the esports industry and other similar industries at the same time. The journey into the world of esports promises a promising and dynamic future, where pixels meet passion, and students emerge as champions both inside and outside the gaming arena.

Additional Reading
World Economic Forum: Esports are being taught in schools. Could they give students useful workplace skills?
Schools’ adoption of esports can improve students’ attendance, engagement, and mental health
Esports seen as pathway to boost diversity in STEM careers

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Hi! I am Edlyn, the Community & Marketing Manager for EDUtech Asia and EDUtech_talks.

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