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Esports Give Students a "Why"

Updated: Oct 6, 2023


How are video games going to benefit students? What are students learning? Why should we have esports in schools? I have heard these questions countless times over the past six years, and the best answer to those questions is, “Ask the kids!”

Ask the kids why they come to school. Most students will share that they come to school to be with friends or to participate in extracurricular activities. Most of the time it boils down to making connections. In my years of teaching, I have never heard students say they come to school because they love the academic rigor. Students need a “why” when they come to school; and for many of them, that “why” is now scholastic gaming.

As part of the Gaming Concepts courses, students keep a daily journal. The topics vary but are typically centered around gameplay, current events, course feedback, and my personal favorite, “What is going on in your life?” The journaling activity was designed to be used as an academic exercise in the Gaming Concepts courses, but it quickly evolved into a way for me to connect with my students.

Things will get better for my family they all have a small problem with money but I don't like talking about it but I need some help with it and maybe foodI hate asking for help but everyone needs it here and there it's something that I need to work on i'm getting better at it but it could get better in every way possible it's something that can be improved a lot is me asking for help and I know that,” Sean R. [unedited].

What was this student’s “why” for coming to school? The answer was so simple, yet I never knew the reason until he posted the above text in his journal for Gaming Concepts. This student came to school because he was hungry. He would come to school and put up with his teachers blathering on about English, science, social studies, and math, just so he could eat two meals a day. What changed in this young man that he now entrusted this information to me?

Scholastic gaming brought him out of his shell. The connection to esports gave him his “why.” He began to talk more in class, not just in Gaming Concepts class, but in every class. This young man was also in my social studies courses, and I know he disliked every second of school, until he took a video game class. Prior to Gaming Concepts, he would do minimal work, perhaps writing a sentence, when a paragraph was the expectation. As he progressed through the course, his writing skills improved. He began to write pages when a paragraph would suffice. I recognize that there were misspellings and grammatical errors in his work, but for me, that was perfectly fine. The point for me was his “why” had evolved from “I am hungry,” to, “I am hungry to be a part of something.”

Esports gave this young man the opportunity to feel success and placed him in a room with people who shared his values–people he could trust. He shared information about his family needing help, which we immediately acted on. We had the resources, but we did not know his need. Scholastic gaming gave him a purpose–a reason to come to school. My hope is that more education stakeholders will understand that scholastic gaming isn’t about students learning to be better video game players. If you ask the kids, they will tell you, “I am learning to be a part of a community, build a community, and help others in that community find success, whatever their version of success may look like.” For many students, bringing scholastic gaming into schools just may be their “why.”

Dr. Michael Russell entered the field of education as a social studies teacher at Complete High School Maize in 2014. Michael has been a speaker at the 2019 ISTE Conference, the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, Global Esports Clinic, and the Mid-America Association for Computers in Education Conference.

Dr. Russell is the Vice-President of Curriculum and Esports Integration at High School Esports League, working to develop curriculum for educators around the world.

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