class act: Best practices in action

class act:
Best practices in action

class act:
Best practices in action

LEAs are leveling up their offerings for gamers

rowing numbers of college scholarships and professional careers. Million-dollar matches broadcast on ESPN. And now, a multitude of high school leagues up and down the state of California. Districts and county offices of education are quickly leveling up their forays into the world of organized esports, or competitions using video games, to engage students in new ways.

Successful and highly popular ventures by early adopters such as the Orange County High School eSports League have led to duplicated efforts in urban, suburban and rural areas. A direct offshoot of the Orange County program can be found in Butte County, which established the Northern California Esports League to much fanfare and community interest. Thirty-eight teams from 25 high schools participated in the Orange County High School eSports League in its 2018 inaugural season, with success leading to the league’s transformation into the North America Scholastic Esports Federation. The federation focuses on helping schools across the country establish their own scholastic leagues and tournaments.

Organizers and education officials say the leagues are about much more than teenagers passing time by lounging around playing video games, but rather, teach leadership, communication, perseverance and determination— many of the same skills gained from participating in other sports and activities.

“Like many high school clubs and sports, esports helps students learn valuable skills that will serve them well throughout their life,” said Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White. “Among the skills developed are strategic thinking, teamwork, collaboration, goal setting, preparation and managing success and failure.”

Students comprising eight teams from seven school districts in Riverside County this winter competed in the inaugural championship of the Riverside County Esports League. Held at partnering Norco College, students displayed their skills in the popular game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The event was organized by the county office of education’s Educational Technology Services Department with support from Troxell and Norco College.

Beyond gaming and competition, Dennis Large, RCOE director of educational technology services, said many participating students show an interest in careers tied to computers, math and science. “It equips students with academic and interpersonal skills that are beneficial to their future,” he said. “Esports and STEM go hand-in-hand.”

Popular games in which students compete range from well-known first-person shooters such as Fortnite and Overwatch to sports simulations like NBA2K20 and the fantastical Rocket League, where soccer meets rocket-powered cars.

Riverside County Esports League

Similar to governing traditional sports such as football and basketball, the California Interscholastic Federation has taken notice of the burgeoning interest in esports. The organization in fall 2019 inked a three-year deal with PlayVs as the official esports provider of the CIF and to launch its Esports Initiative. The CIF noted that the impetus for the partnership was strong interest from member schools that have been looking for ways to start esports teams and leagues.

Resources from both the CIF and the North America Scholastic Esports Federation address parent and teacher concerns about whether the “hype” about esports is overblown and whether participation does, in fact, lead to tangible student outcomes. The research and testimonials, thus far, largely support the advertised benefits of competitive gaming, which is projected to be a $1.5 billion industry this year, according to the research firm Newzoo.

“Students engaged in esports are part of an on-campus high school team that works together to strategize, compete and have fun in an educational environment,” CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said in a statement. “They will learn the life lessons of teamwork, problem-solving skills and responding positively to adversity. We are excited to provide students with this education-based initiative.”

Students who excel in the competitions may also find new pathways to higher education, as hundreds of colleges and universities offer tens of millions of dollars in esports scholarships each year. The number grows every year as more schools become involved with esports programs. By most recent count, ESPN finds that 128 colleges and universities participate in esports competitions, with a national governing body known as the National Association of Collegiate Esports as the main home for most of those organizations.

—Andrew Cummins