In previous blogs, we’ve shared how esports programs are inclusive, can help build relationships, and address mental health and attendance challenges. But there is another hidden benefit that can easily be overlooked. Esports programs provide an opportunity for student leadership.
In my time as the advisor for my school’s esports program, I witnessed students taking on leadership roles firsthand. Since the founding of the club in 2018, my co-advisor and I had always maintained a student leadership team, but this team had relatively undefined roles. They planned events, hung posters, helped make decisions for the club, and were also the dedicated competitors on our various teams. That’s how it was for the first two years of the club–up until one student, Jake, changed things.
Jake had been with us since the beginning of the club, joining as a freshman. By the time he was a junior, he was an accomplished student: AP scholar, Eagle Scout, and dedicated to both media broadcasting and the esports program. He was on our leadership team; and that year, his accomplishments included contributions to building our Discord moderation programs and performing well on our Overwatch team. In addition, he also built a sleek trophy case for our esports lab for his Eagle Scout project.
That same year, my co-advisor and I also decided that our program had grown enough to establish a more defined student leadership structure for the following year. As we were interviewing for new roles like social media manager and vice president, we already knew Jake was the obvious choice for the first president of the esports program. The news couldn’t have come at a better time for him, as he had just been passed over for the head of a different school program.
Watching him work was a thing to behold the next year. Just a few of his accomplishments include: helping interview other student leaders, helping organize teams, captaining a team each semester (our Halo team made it to the HSEL quarterfinals under his leadership), helping run and moderate our Discord, and establishing a network in which esports programs across our large district could collaborate.
But he also did something I could never have predicted. He made a change at the district level that even teachers couldn’t make happen. In October of that year, district IT decided to block Discord because of security concerns. This was a big problem for the program, as Discord was the main way we communicated with our players outside of meetings. In response to this, Jake immediately went into action, writing the most professional and well-argued letter I have ever seen a high school student create. Jake’s letter was the reason our district unblocked Discord. I know this because the district only unblocked it for the district’s esports programs. Jake’s arguments were so convincing that IT couldn’t ignore him, even after they had already rejected my pleas. Students’ voices matter, and those voices have power.
Remember that he was passed over as the leader for another school program. Imagine the potential that would have been unrealized if he didn’t have esports.
He is now in college and plays for his school’s Overwatch 2 team. There are so many stories like Jake’s about students rising to their potential through esports–like the story in our last blog about Gabby overcoming her anxiety to design the branding for her esports team, or this article in the LA Times about a star Rocket League player in a California school. In all of these stories, students may have coasted through high school without direction. Instead, they were able to channel their passion for gaming into their esports programs, and unlocked leadership skills that they may not have known they possessed.
So who knows? That quiet freshman who tried out for your Rocket League or Minecraft team this year could one day be establishing a network of esports programs across your school district. All it takes to get them there is a place where they can feel safe, an adult who believes in them, and a way to focus their energy. Esports is providing that for thousands of new students every semester.
Michael Watson is a veteran high school English teacher and the former esports manager for a championship-winning High School Esports League team out of Kansas. As the Platform Service Manager for Generation Esports, he now collaborates with school districts across the nation to develop successful esports programs.