Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 19
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > TRACKING NEWS AND IDEAS IN EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY
Gamers Are the New High School Athletes: The Rise of Esports
Amy Whitlock's varsity team at
Oswego East High School in Illinois is a state champion. Whitlock,
a French teacher at the school, leads
her students in practices three times
a week. They review footage of competitions, strategize for upcoming
games, and scrimmage to prepare
for future events.
But the students Whitlock coaches
are involved in a form of sports much
different from traditional high school
athletics. They are playing League of
Legends-one of the most popular
video games in the world of esports.
Esports, a movement that features
competitive video game play that
grew out of the commercial gaming
industry, is popular at the college and
professional levels. Now, it is gaining
a greater foothold in K-12.
The High School Esports League,
an online league that allows club
teams to participate in tournaments,
has 15,000 students on its platform
representing 800 schools nationwide,
said Mason Mullenioux, the CEO of
HSEL, an online gaming company
based in Kentucky.
More companies are looking to
enter the space and capture a new
generation of players. PlayVS, a tech
startup, just announced plans to start
an official national league this October in partnership with the National
Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body for high
school sports and activities.
"It is a lot more like an athletic
team and a lot less like hanging out,"
Whitlock said of the students who
participate on her varsity, junior varsity, and beginner esports teams. "I
think it's going to explode."
Some teachers and administrators
have found that esports engages students who might not otherwise participate in school activities, teaching
teamwork and potentially opening
new college and career opportunities.
At the same time, school leaders are
grappling with some of the darker aspects of gaming culture: addressing
toxic language, concerns about the
violent nature of gameplay, and persistent equity issues in esports.
National and State Leagues
Esports is a far bigger phenomenon
than a few players with headsets
gaming in their bedrooms, said Nyle
Sky Kauweloa, a teaching assistant
and Ph.D. candidate at the University
of Hawaii at Manoa whose research
focuses on competitive online gaming.
He said it is a growing industry.
Professional leagues have publicity
teams and commentators, and have
seen investment from NFL team
owners. At the college level, more
than 475 schools offer club teams
and about 50 offer esports scholarships, according to the NCAA. The
Paris 2024 Olympic organizers are
in discussions to include esports as a
demonstration sport, and it will be included as a medal event at the 2022
"The spectatorship numbers are
huge," said Kauweloa. Twitch, the
online streaming platform that
broadcasts live videocasts of games,
has a larger viewership than HBO,
Netflix, and ESPN, according to
market intelligence firm SuperData
Though there are several national
and state-level league options at the
high school level, most of them operate similarly. A team trains in one
game-Overwatch and League of
Legends are two of the most popular-and play in online, tournamentstyle competitions over the course
a semester. Most leagues provide
instructional resources for teachers
or other staff members who will be
managing the team, explaining game
play and offering suggestions for promoting good sportsmanship.
Some leagues offer first-person
shooter games on their platforms,
while others don't, and some charge a
per-student monthly fee. These costs
vary: the High School Esports League
charges $5 per student per month,
while PlayVS plans to charge $16.
'Showcase Their Skills'
The National Federation of State
High School Associations authorized
esports as an activity-not a sport-
for the upcoming school year. The organization and PlayVS hope to partner with 18 to 20 states in the first
"There are more students who are
participating in gaming than there
are in most of our sports at this time,"
said Mark Koski, the CEO of the high
school federation. Esports would give
many of these students the opportunity to be part of a team for the first
time, he said.
"You see valedictorians gaming
cheek to jowl with kids who are doing
poorly in basic coursework," said Constance Steinkuehler, a professor of
education and game-based learning
at the University of California, Irvine.
For students who haven't previously shown interest in extracurricular activities, having one of their
passions validated by teachers and
school administrators can change
their outlook on school altogether,
said Steinkuehler. "They feel for
the first time that school is a place
where they might belong and fit in,"
she said, adding that the Californiabased North America Scholastic
Esports Federation, formerly the
Orange County High School Esports
League, has seen a decrease in school
absenteeism among participants.
At Arrowhead Union High School
in Hartland, Wis., the opportunity to
game together has engaged a broad
group of students, said Mike Dahle,
a former business education teacher
at the school and the coordinator of
the Wisconsin High School eSports
Conference. Some kids who he's seen
each other, is
popular in the
K-12, college, and
Trend gains traction
in K-12 and college
struggle socially are now eager to
stay after school and work with their
classmates. Esports is an opportunity
for them to "showcase their skills and
abilities," he said.
However, others argue that esports
is inherently inappropriate for school.
Even if teams avoid first-person
shooters, the other games available
can still include significant violence,
said Josh Golin, the executive director
of the advocacy organization Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Schools should be investing in
extracurriculars that allow students
to do activities they wouldn't be able
to do on their own at home, and that
keep them active, he said. "Given
how much time kids are spending on
screens, [schools] should be designing
afterschool programming that doesn't
Even though Whitlock's practices
revolve around screens, they depend
on the structure of a traditional school
activity. Like in traditional sports,
players adhere to a practice schedule
and focus on developing strategy.
During practice, Whitlock, the Illinois teacher, works with teams to
research their opponents' rank and
team composition-the characters
they choose to play within the game.
The varsity students meet together
once a week and then practice on
their own time, while the junior varsity teams also scrimmage together.
Esports presents opportunities
for adults to teach students tenets
of good sportsmanship, like how to
communicate, or how to lose well,
Toxic social behavior can be an unfortunate part of gaming culture, she
said. Racist, sexist, and homophobic
language are common in game chats,
and have even shown up in professional competitions. And sometimes
players abuse and insult each other
when they're "tilted," a slang term for
feeling angry and frustrated after a
But these aspects of the culture
shouldn't scare schools away, said
Steinkuehler. For one, unsportsmanlike conduct isn't unique to video
"Can you just imagine a football
field where everyone in the stadium
got a microphone?" she asked. But
more importantly, she said, teachers
and administrators have the power
to change the discourse by modeling
what appropriate behavior looks like
and monitoring the space.
"I try to emphasize that you're humble in your winnings and you're graceful in your loss," said Whitlock. When
her students compete in matches, they
are required to use a school channel
on Discord, a voice and text chat platform for games, to communicate with
each other and the opposing team.
Whitlock monitors the channel during gameplay.
Occasionally, she has to remind
her students about good sportsmanship-they sometimes display mastery symbols in their chats, reminders to the other team that they're
better at certain skills, she said. But
most of the time she is proud of her
team's conduct. "Having a teacher
there helps curb some of that behavior," she said.
Several leagues have codes of conduct with penalties for bad behavior.
In the High School Esports League's
summer 2017 finals, one team
started repeatedly directing racial
slurs at its opponents in a chat during a match. The league shut down
the video stream during gameplay
and immediately reached out to the
school administration, said Mullenioux. This zero-tolerance approach to
abusive language has set a helpful
precedent, he said.
College and Career Opportunities?
Beyond teaching collaboration and
healthy competition, esports proponents say that the game can be an
avenue to college and career opportunities.
"Like any sport, there's a giant
structure of people that surround and
work based on supporting that professional league," said Tom Turner, the
Director of Instruction for STEM and
Health Sciences at the Orange County
Department of Education in California. Working with the Scholastic Esports Federation, he helped create an
esports English curriculum for grades
9-12 that integrates game design and
aspects of the competitive gaming
industry, like entrepreneurship, marketing, and hospitality. Each course
aligns with a different industry sector
within the California state career and
technical education standards.
But Golin is skeptical that professional leagues are developed enough
to be a major source of employment.
Very few recreational players are
going to become "rich and famous,"
Esports can also provide college scholarships. Many are on the
smaller side, around $5,000 a year or
less, but some can cover a significant
portion of tuition. One of Whitlock's
students received $20,000 a year to
attend Illinois College.
Esports scholarships have made
postsecondary education possible
for several of her students who never
would have thought they could afford it, she added. "You are preventing kids from going to college by
not having a program at your high
school," she said.
The most popular games don't require special hardware. If the school
has computers with enough processing power to run Photoshop, they can
run the games, said Dahle.
Often, schools have to restore access to gaming-related websites
they've previously blocked on school
networks, said Turner, who works
with schools in the district to help
them implement teams. If the administration is wary, he suggests schoolappropriate alternatives: Students
can use Google Classroom to communicate during games, rather than
Discord, for example.
Some schools prefer that students
practice at home, rather than on the
campus network, but Turner said
that's not the best option. "If they're
playing under the banner of the
school, you want them to practice at
school, just like anybody else."
At the professional and collegiate
level, esports is struggling with diversity, says Steinkuehler. Though
esports teams are co-ed, girls are
underrepresented on college teams.
It's especially important to address
these issues of equity and inclusion at the high school level, said
Steinkuehler, where esports can be a
powerful tool to engage students and
reshape their relationship to school.
"I don't want another world where
it's like football or basketball," she
said, "where only a handful of kids
get to play."
EDUCATION WEEK | May 30, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 19
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 30, 2018
Education Week - May 30, 2018
News in Brief
Number of Librarians Plummets in Schools, Data Find
A Growing Vision Problem Is Hidden in Plain Sight
Another School in Anguish
The 10 Lives Lost>
Santa Fe Shooting Sparks Debate on School Design
Heated Comments Highlight Divisions in Wake of School Shooting
Survey of K-3 Teachers Captures Affinity With Pre-K Colleagues
Schools See New Dilemma in Teens Who Cyberbully Themselves
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Gamers Are the New School Athletes: The Rise of Esports
Trump Panel Slammed on Pace Of School Safety Work
DeVos Deflects Criticism At Capitol Hill Hearing
State Restrictions on School Choice Earn Ed. Sec.’s Ire
Jeannine Diddle Uzzi: Math Is a Language. Let’s Teach It That Way
Natalia Kucirkova: Is Silicon Valley Standardizing Learning?
Carolyn R. Hodges & Olga M. Welch: The Face of Leadership
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Michael J. Petrilli: A Fair and Effective Approach to School Discipline
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Education Week - May 30, 2018
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 2
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Number of Librarians Plummets in Schools, Data Find
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 7
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - A Growing Vision Problem Is Hidden in Plain Sight
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 9
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Another School in Anguish
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - The 10 Lives Lost>
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 12
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Santa Fe Shooting Sparks Debate on School Design
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Heated Comments Highlight Divisions in Wake of School Shooting
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Survey of K-3 Teachers Captures Affinity With Pre-K Colleagues
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 16
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 17
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Schools See New Dilemma in Teens Who Cyberbully Themselves
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Gamers Are the New School Athletes: The Rise of Esports
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - DeVos Deflects Criticism At Capitol Hill Hearing
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - State Restrictions on School Choice Earn Ed. Sec.’s Ire
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Natalia Kucirkova: Is Silicon Valley Standardizing Learning?
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Carolyn R. Hodges & Olga M. Welch: The Face of Leadership
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 25
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 27
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Michael J. Petrilli: A Fair and Effective Approach to School Discipline
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW4