Esports Education

Esports+Education

Tyler Stoen and Vijay Homan

When you picture video gamers, many people often imagine  someone huddled in a dark room with no human interaction. However, this is far from the truth of competitive and even casual gamers. Competitive gaming is similar to professional sports in the sense that players interact with other members of the community and create lasting friendships through the video game. Although people find video games to be disconnecting from society, it actually does the opposite in many cases. 

According to a study conducted by the Pew research center, 91% of players play with others that they are connected with online, or from other activities.

The rise of video games in the last decade has led competitive gaming to rise into twenty-first century mainstream media. With teenagers and young adults at the forefront of this rise, the competitive gaming frenzy has spread into colleges and universities across the world where, much like traditional sports, the next generation of talent will come from.

Video games have long been seen by colleges as a red flag due to the stigma surrounding it. Colleges may claim that “those who waste their time with such trivial activities must be unfit for more advanced education, because they’re not fully committed to their studies”, and so on. However, the truth is that many colleges have begun to form gaming teams which they recruit students for, and players with professional-esque skills have become sought after by schools. 

This new frontier for collegiate gaming includes a former Paly student and participant in Paly Esports Club, who plays under the username “Tango” and preferred to stay anonymous. He began as a member of the Paly Overwatch team, which competes in the High School Esports League against other high schools in the nearby area. Like many competitive gamers, he went from simply playing for fun or with other random players to being on a bonafide team. This transition meant that there were different expectations than he was used to.

“Usually when playing solo or with friends, you aren’t really focused as much on the team aspect of the game … Now that you’re playing with your peers in a semi-serious environment, your attention has to shift from playing around your own style to playing to your teammates’ strengths and helping the team succeed as a whole,” Tango said.

Usually when playing solo or with friends, you aren’t really focused as much on the team aspect of the game … Now that you’re playing with your peers in a semi-serious environment, your attention has to shift from playing around your own style to playing to your teammates’ strengths and helping the team succeed as a whole,”

— Tango

Aside from having to mesh with a permanent group of teammates, another significant part of joining the team was controlling his criticism. Almost all players across every game experience toxicity, whether it be verbal or in-game. It happens so much that in solo queue games, many players expect or resort to that type of behavior by default. However satisfying it may be to make fun of a random person online, it can be detrimental to growing as a unit.

“Once the teammates in your games are people you actually know and you can’t flame for being incompetent, you really have to change the way you approach the game and try to provide constructive feedback to others rather than harshly tear them down,” Tango said.

The high school gaming experience is also significantly less competitive. Most high school teams are much less selective, resulting in a wider skill difference among players. When he was on the Paly Overwatch team, Tango was one of three players who ranked in the top 5% of the leaderboard, while the others were in the lower 50%. This can be frustrating for some players, because it takes more work to get to be able to actually compete with other teams. 

While the HSEL, or High School Esports League, is a significant stepping stone towards collegiate play, not all players participate. It is just as common for players to grind in solo-queue and not make it onto a collegiate team. Some students have even been offered scholarships to attend colleges and play as a member of their esports program. There are a few different categories of games which schools offer scholarships for. Multiplayer online battle arena games, such as League of Legends or Dota 2, are a bit older but nonetheless a timeless treasure of the gaming community. First person shooters like Valorant and Overwatch are the more popular genre for recent games, and their popularity has seen many schools create new teams for competition. 

For Tango, he enrolled at New York University, where he recently played as a member of their Overwatch team. Although he was not recruited specifically to play esports at NYU, he walked on for his freshman year. 

“I saw a post about various game-related Discord servers on the NYU subreddit … one thing led to another, and one of the managers reached out to me and offered me a spot on their Overwatch team … I always saw it as a possible option going into my freshman year especially since it would help me get to know more people in a completely new environment,” Tango said.

During his time so far in the esports scene, gaming has positively impacted his life as a young adult and as a student.

“Benefits like leadership, cooperation, and sportsmanship skills can be gained from esports just as well as any other sport such as basketball or football, not to mention the amount of connections and friendships that are formed as well,” he said.