In one year, Berger’s K-12 esports program grew from 75 to 190 athletes, 70 percent of whom had never been involved in any other campus activity.
Kyle Berger has been a CTO for 20 years, but had never been contacted by a college recruiter—until now. Berger, the chief technology officer for Grapevine Colleyville Independent School District in Grapevine, Texas, was both stunned and gratified when he received a call from a large Texas college inquiring about one of his esports athletes.
The term “athletes” isn’t a misnomer—students who play and compete in the burgeoning field of esports are rapidly gaining an equivalent level of credibility, stature, and scholarship dollars as any quarterback or power forward. Esports, or competitive online video gaming, is currently recognized as a varsity sport in nine states.
“When I got the call,” says Berger, “I realized that I had underestimated the level of excitement and growth surrounding esports in K-12 education. Now everyone wants to get in on it.”
Berger was an early adopter of esports at the K-12 level; he began developing his program in January of 2018 and went live with league playing in January 2019. Its popularity is now exploding. Berger typically fields three to four calls a week from schools around the country, asking him for his insights on how to get an esports program going. To meet the growing demand and enthusiasm, he’s conducted five webinars that cover the how-tos of esports. And that’s just in the last 30 days.
Esports has had a strong presence at the university level since 2015, according to an Inside Higher Ed article. Colleges and universities quickly realized the benefits, which include drawing reclusive students out of hiding and into a team-building environment; inclusivity for all gamers regardless of physical stature, gender or disability; and solid preparation for a host of careers generated by esports, which is expected to become a 1.5 billion industry by 2020.
Savvy leaders in K-12, primary, and secondary education are now seeing similar benefits in their schools—with the added incentive of a pool of $16 million in college scholarships currently offered annually to top high school gamers. The priority, however, is teaching students worthwhile life skills that will serve them now and well beyond their academic years.
In one year, Berger’s program grew from 75 to 190 athletes, 70 percent of whom had never been involved in any other campus activity. In addition to the players, his team includes analysts, online streamers, tech support staff, and marketers who handle the livestreaming graphics and publicity.
By looking at esports with a broader, more holistic lens, your school can find additional value in establishing a program. Students improve their analytical, collaboration, and teamwork skills as they build up their portfolios for post-graduation. “We sit them down in front of a camera for mock interviews in which they discuss the esports world,” says Berger. In addition to computer programming, esports opens students up to a wide range of degrees including broadcasting, game design, and esports management.
Start small, say the experts. Many of the games don’t require too much in terms of PC power, so your regular computer lab might be enough. Most teams hold competitions after school, when other schools are available and the internet connection is more robust.
To kick off your program, you’ll need a coach or director, participants, a space for the gamers to practice and play, and a solid network. You can find out more in our esports white paper, Riding the Tidal Wave of eSports in Schools.
Trust your students to help you develop the program.
“Give your students ownership in setup,” suggests Berger. “Within two seconds, our students told us the refresh rate was incorrect on some of our machines.” Since a truly competitive machine starts at around $1,200, you might want to let students bring in their own equipment. He suggests spending money on higher-end monitors, keyboards, and mice. Either way, you won’t need to buy 30 top-notch machines; League of Legends, for example, is a five-player game.
Perhaps the largest difference between esports at the K-12 and collegiate level is protecting student safety. “You need to focus on best practices in terms of web filtering,” says Berger. “You’ll have to open certain ports [to accommodate the games,] which could cause concern.”
He recommends segmenting the network so that the esports area is separate, self-contained, and easier to monitor. To further protect your students, consider drawing up a code of conduct or player agreement that reminds the athletes that they are school representatives.
In a K-12 setting, you’ll have to select a game that’s age-appropriate (E, E10+, or Teen)—most likely League of Legends, RocketLeague or another game that isn’t a first-person shooter or other violent experience. Even better, many of the games played in K-12, primary, and secondary esports encourage strategy and teamwork. In League of Legends, for example, teams compete in an online multiplayer battle arena with elements of fantasy, accumulating experience and items that build their strength and allow them to bypass the enemy’s defensive structures.
Once you’ve entered the world of esports, you’ll find more and more to like about it. From the high level of inclusion (10 percent of Berger’s esports team is on the autism spectrum) to the skill development to the camaraderie, the benefits are endless. Game on!
Join us October 3rd in Syracuse, New York for our esports seminar! Hear how experienced experts have implemented successful esports programs and have all of your questions answered. Speakers to include SUNY Canton, Colorado College, Extreme networks, and more esports experts.