How scholastic esports opens up college pathways

Scholastic esports allows educators to open new futures for their students in the burgeoning digital age of entertainment and education

Esports programs continue to grow at a rapid pace at both the collegiate level and at the high school level in the United States. With that growth, there are often salient questions that parents have when their children dive into the new world of scholastic esports and content creation: Are scholastic esports legitimate? What will they teach my child? Are you actually serious about a bunch of kids playing video games?

The answer to all of those questions is, without hesitation, yes. We are no stranger to those questions at NASEF and often talk with parents, educators, and students about the benefits of scholastic esports and the inclusion of video games into school curriculums.

Scholastic esports allows educators to open new pathways for their students in the burgeoning digital age of entertainment and education. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that in many ways, forcing classrooms to use online tools. Scholastic fellows are educators in a community of practice who develop and refine in- and  out-of-school curriculum that leverages student interest in esports. One of the most common refrains among the NASEF fellows was how the digital tools of gaming and esports helped keep their students connected to each other in a world-state that demanded we stay apart. In our interconnected world, games are often a dominant force in bringing millennials and Gen Z together.

As more colleges invest in esports, more pathways have emerged for students and faculty. At Boise State, Doc Haskell, Clinical Associate Professor and Head Coach, has a blossoming esports program for students. Not only did they offer $100k in scholarships FY 21, they also plan to up that to $150k for the upcoming year. The scholarships they give out aren’t just for those who play on the competitive teams–the scholarships are also for those who want to pursue work in any aspect of esports.

Photos provided by Doc Haskell

Throughout his program he employs students in various aspects: shoutcasters, directors, technical directors, replay directors, hosts, graphic designers/artists, observers and observer directors, journalists, and more. Even with the well-defined roles in the Boise esports program, students aren’t limited by what they last did. “Someone might direct one night and be the technical director the next. Others might host for one event and switch to another role the next, depending on the game,” Doc Haskell told us. When they’re creating a show, the behind-the-scenes production looks like it could be for any sport or show.

The program Doc runs at Boise State is not unlike many other programs across the country. These scholastic esports programs engage students in numerous disciplines in STEM subjects and in the arts. In a majority of instances, there will be more support staff than actual players in a program because of all the things that have to be accomplished in order to run an esports program and field a team(s). Teams need coaches, analysts, psychologists, physical trainers, marketers, designers, fashion designers, accountants, and more. By having these roles available to students in the esports program, Doc is preparing them for their careers once they finish college—all without having to actually play or be good at games. The key takeaway is that they’ll have a leg up on their future competition because they’ve developed a working portfolio to show future employers because of how hands-on esports programs are.

“I don’t ever feel like I need to defend [my esports programs]. If somebody thinks it isn’t really worthwhile, I ask them to come down and watch for a little bit. They see all the things they normally see—film preparation, game planning, personal evaluation, communication management, learning how to be gracious in an uncomfortable loss, or learning how to be kind and humble in a win. It’s all character development. It’s why sports are so important,” Doc told us when asked about how scholastic esports helps with the personal development of his students.

Photo Provided by Doc Haskell

In our own coverage of career opportunities, we’ve talked with dozens of professionals in the esports space about their roles on teams like Cloud9 and Team Liquid and from companies like Activision-Blizzard and Riot Games. The refrain we often hear is to get involved with your college program and learn the ropes there. Professional esports organizations will look favorably on that experience. If there isn’t a club or program, start one. The same advice goes for those at the high school or middle school level.

At the broader level, Michael Brooks, Executive Director of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) has seen many of the academic programs spin up new academic opportunities at colleges around esports in the last couple of years. Whether they’re majors, minors, or certificate programs, colleges are offering educational opportunities in many niche areas of sports management, just like traditional sports; courses on online community management, esports sponsorships, advertising, and digital event management already exist. He expects more to pop up in the future since sports management is too broad to cover the wide range of roles in sports and esports.

“We know there are a number of companies who love to hire former student collegiate athletes because of the inherent traits and skills that are developed by inter-collegiate competition: teamwork, communication, diligence, maintaining an accurate schedule,” Michael said. “When many companies see you’re a student-athlete, you move to a different pile. You’re more of what they’re interested in for employees than the average person. Esports is that exact same avenue because all of those characteristics are the same.”

Photos provided by NACE

Esports may be relatively young, and scholastic esports even younger, but it has become a driving force in the community, both within education and outside of it. It allows students to join their interests of games and esports into a traditional academic structure, which motivates them where little could before. As we explore scholastic esports even more in the coming years, you should expect to see more progress in academics, scholarships, and career pipelines as more employers, educators, parents, and students see the vast benefits of these programs and enrollment for their future.

eSchool Media Contributors