Updated: Oct 6
Careers in the esports industry have never been more plentiful. What was once a gamer’s fantasy, “I want a job where I work around video games all day,” is now a respected career field with a pipeline from scholastic gaming, to college scholarships, to successful careers–with or without a college degree.
In 2018 Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson visited the building where I was the principal and toured our newly-built esports lab. I remember him saying, “It looks like a lot of fun, and the students are really engaged, but what are they going to do with it? They can’t all become professional video gamers.”
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t 100% sure what they were going to do with it either! I didn’t play video games. I really didn’t even like video games. I fought almost daily about screen time with my own three children. What I did know, though, was that my students were excited; my teacher who was teaching the video game class and coaching esports was excited; and I’d spent enough time in education to know that when students and teachers are excited about something TOGETHER, magic happens.
Since then, the esports industry has boomed. Almost every career you can think of now has a place in esports: business developer, producer, nutritionist, game developer, web designer, journalist, teacher, and, of course, professional gamer. Job growth in esports and gaming is projected to increase 9% in 2022 and top 300,000 US employees (IBISWorld).
Educators have taken note. As a result, a pipeline from middle and high school esports teams and scholastic gaming classes, to college esports degrees and scholarships totalling more than $16 million (National Association of Collegiate Esports), to professional careers in the esports industry have emerged.
While it is an exciting time for those who are interested in careers in the esports industry, another lesson emerged from Dr. Watson’s visit. As I struggled to explain just how esports fit into schools, my superintendent chimed in, “I totally get it. It’s like band.” He went on to explain that few students in the band go on to college to major in music. Some get scholarships, but after high school, many band members never touch their instruments again.
How does learning to play the trumpet translate into a life skill? We know that members of the band learn organizational skills, cognitive reasoning, collaborative skills, creative thinking, self discipline, goal setting and perseverance. Most importantly, though, we know band students have a place to fit in at school. They have something to look forward to during their school day. They know they are part of something. When they show up in the lunchroom, they have a group of friends to sit with. Practicing skills that they can take into ANY career field is an added bonus.
Esports sounds an awful lot like band.
With increased scrutiny on measurable outcomes that schools must meet, there has been a shift to an X = Y mentality. An earned credit = a tangible skill to use in life. There are many intangible skills that students learn in school that don’t always equal an exact career connection, but these skills are often what make students most employable. It’s hard to teach perseverance to students unless they fail. Unlike traditional classes where students will most likely get a lower grade when they fail, even if they are given the opportunity to try again, extra-curricular activities such as athletics, band, and forensics are safe places where students fail and are expected to try again. No one hits every basket, every note, or every word, every time.
In esports, students fail and lose all the time, but they continue to try until they win, or at the least improve. Perseverance helps make students more resilient in life, as well as better employees. When educators help students make occupational connections to esports, they are not just connecting students to a career, educators are also helping students connect what they learn in school to valuable skills they can use throughout their lives.
Dr. Kristy Custer is the VP of Educational Innovation for the High School Esports League. Prior to joining HSEL, Dr. Custer worked in education for 24 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. The past 20 years she has worked with at-risk students helping her school earn two National School of Character designations as well as a Crystal Star Award for dropout prevention from the National Dropout Prevention Network. Dr. Custer is the 2018 Kansas High School Principal of the year.