How US scholastic esports programmes develop young players

Vanta’s Marketing Manager, Celine Charitat, writes for Esports Insider to discuss the rise of scholastic esports and how programmes can help develop younger players.

Image credit: Pexels

Over the past several years, the esports scene has blown up in popularity. This has translated from professional tournaments all the way down to esports leagues within high school, middle school and elementary school ecosystems. As of 2022, there are around 30m viewers monthly consuming esports content. The portion of youth who play video games in some capacity is currently hovering around 90%.

As gaming and esports have increased in popularity, so has the idea that competitive gaming can benefit its participants in many ways. Even more so than casual gaming, participation in organised esports has been linked to increased school attendance, development of STEM skills, social-emotional learning and many other developmental benefits.

Because of the proven benefits of esports, mainstream adoption of esports programmes in academic settings has increased rapidly. Schools across the globe are realising the benefits of offering esports to their students and, as such, are implementing esports programmes into their after-school activities.

In some cases esports is even being implemented into their general curriculum. Not only is gaming fun, but well executed esports programmes can help develop youth in ways that no other activity can.

Social, emotional learning and esports

Like traditional sports, esports can serve an important role in the emotional development of young people. Team-based activities help individuals develop strong social skills that can carry with them throughout their lives. Esports requires skills in group thinking, written and verbal communication, team coordination and other skills relevant to daily life. These skills can then be transferred into scholastic careers as well as their professional lives.

Where esports differ from traditional sports is that teaching a person through competitive gaming gives the opportunity to teach anger management and frustration control. While players can certainly become frustrated in traditional sports, it is a much more common occurrence among gamers.

An even stronger case for including esports in schools is that it reaches a population that traditional sports cannot. Many students can’t play sports: they may have differing abilities, medical conditions that may make them more prone to injury or illness, or may be experiencing other life-altering differences.

Alternatively, they may just not want to play sports. Esports are adaptable for all types of individuals and are generally much more accessible than traditional sports. This will allow a larger portion of your students to have access to that sense of belonging that team-based activities bring.

Image credit: Pexels

STEM Skill Development and Esports

In addition to helping gamers develop social-emotional skills, esports can aid in the development of STEM skills for youth. When talking about STEM skills, it does not only mean skills related to building computers or solving equations. STEM skills are more broadly defined and include things such as problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and decision-making.

Esports also gives students exposure to computers, gaming, and software development, which may ignite a passion for further pursuing a career in the industry.

Tom Dore, Education Director at the British Esports Federation, and an experienced secondary school Science teacher, commented: “STEM skills are critical to the development of 21st-century society. We must give our students the opportunity to develop and practise these skills. 

“Esports is an exciting, modern, relevant vehicle through which we can allow young people to do this in our schools. Esports has inherent links to STEM, digital and creative media industries, therefore participation in esports will help our students develop future-ready skills and become future-ready citizens.”

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How a school can get involved

It’s easy to start thinking about building an esports programme, however it can be difficult to execute. Establishments can do it all alone, or they can reach out to an organisation, such as Vanta, that can do it all. Vanta provides the esports platform, leagues and coaching, so all entities have to do is collect signups for teams at the school. Vanta’s esports for schools programme is completely free.

“In middle school, one of the best practices is to give the people a lot of opportunities to try new things,” said Rebecca Yacono, Head of Middle School at Worcester Academy in Boston, Massachusetts. 

“What Vanta and their coaches do is teach the skills more than just winning at a video game. They’re playing in an environment where there are grown-ups and building respect with those grown-ups and building those communication skills and collaboration skills.”

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