Esports and the Scholar Gamer

Long time followers of the @ijohnpederson Home Game™ know bits and pieces of my history with online gaming. Back in 2005 I  picked up a copy of World of Warcraft, curious about what a bunch of interesting bloggers I was following found in it. It turned into a year long, 80 hour-per-week experience. The online was cool. The game was interesting. But it was the application of many, many others skills in that environment that turned it into one of the most transformative personal and professional experience of my life. Research. Leadership. Organization. Design. Communication. Negotiation. Data. The list goes on and on. Even to this day in 2018 I’ve found nothing that rivaled that community in terms of what I experienced learning online.

One of my long-time follows on Twitter is James O’Hagan. He, along with David Jakes, introduced me to Ditka’s pot roast nachos a decade ago, for which I will ever be grateful. Mostly because once you share an interesting meal you pay just a little more attention to the crazy stuff down the line. O’Hagan is good at karaoke. He once got suspended in recreational league rugby. Wherever he ends up he serves on the library community board(s). He’s doing graduate work around esports in education. Esports? Earlier this summer he mentioned the first face-to-face meeting of folks here in Wisconsin around the organization/creation of an esports conference. (I mistook this as an event where people would come and learn about esports. They were actually figuring out scheduling competitions of high school esports teams.)

I’m ahead of myself. Esports. Organized, competitive online gaming. Last year in Wisconsin there were around 16 high schools with teams loosely held together by a handful of educators volunteering their time as “coaches” for their districts. Yes, coaches. Yes, teams. There are even jerseys and, in one case, a purpose built “arena” for the school’s esports teams. Large, urban districts together with small, rural districts. Find 5 students interested in Rocket League and a few desktop machines and you are in. (Rocket League, Overwatch, and League of Legends are the three games most often used in competition here in Wisconsin at this time.)

Interesting things I learned.

  • The “market” for esports will soon eclipse that of the NHL in terms of size and revenue.
  • One coach mentioned having to negotiate practice time for his team with the basketball coach.
  • One athletic director told a story of their first meeting. “I work in a small, rural district where, as a teacher and athletic director, I get to know all of the students. When we hosted our first esports informational meeting, I was shocked at the number of faces that were new to me.”
  • Wisconsin students are earning college scholarships through esports.
  • Video game violence is far less of a concern among those that have done it than I anticipated.
  • While the hardware specs to support these games aren’t extraordinary, our mass-movement towards cheap Chromebooks are holding things back.

Here’s my most important take-away. James has this concept for what he calls a scholar gamer.

“Esports in schools, if implemented to the fullest potential, is a vehicle to something more than games.” 

My experience in World of Warcraft was much more than simply participating in an online game.

 “A Scholar Gamer is not just one who plays the games, but also performs data analysis, shoutcasts, coaches, responsibly  manages social media, organizes tournaments, is health conscious, and is a more tolerant, inclusive, and well-connected global citizen.”

I don’t know where I came to this next part…whether it’s part of one of James’ presentations or from a subsequent discussion about esports in education. In short, schools are well-equipped to address students needs at both edges of a bell curve. We know what it means to support students with learning disabilities as well as gifted and talented. (Apologies if my terms of art are completely out-of-date.) 

There are a bunch of students in the middle who have neither an IEP or are taking all of your AP courses. Their connection to school may be something like band and not as a three-sport athlete. They are your “middle” students that go unnoticed. Perhaps they are your introverts. These students…these are your gamers. They are finding what it means to be a part of something through the connections they are making online. They are negotiating the good, bad, and ugly of what it means to be in these communities. They are hesitant to ask the adults at school because of fear of misunderstanding, rejection, etc. These kids need us.

You also have these adults in your staff. They probably skew younger, perhaps in their 20’s and 30’s. They are busy establishing themselves as professionals and figuring out what it means to teach. They have this secret inside them that they don’t know how to express any more than the students do. Make them your champions.

I’ll finish by pointing to more stuff by James O’Hagan. He has a podcast titled The Academy of Esports.  Five simple talking points backed with some interesting links to support esports in education.

  1. Esports gives us a way to redefine athletic culture.
  2. Esports helps diversify opportunities for student participation.
  3. Esports promotes good physical and mental health.
  4. Esports increases career and collegiate scholarship pathways.
  5. Esports helps encourage play.

That's why.

Feel free to contact me if there's anything more I can do to explain things.