Esports in K12 Education - Online Reflection Seminar
Given the overwhelming popularity of video gaming among young people, it is not surprising the rise of esports as a booming industry, with an estimated audience of 532.1 million worldwide. But esports is also a relatively new approach to teaching that utilises competitive video gaming as a tool for learning, promising to promote the development of 21st-century skills, such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and strategic planning.
In April 2023, European Schoolnet organised an Online Reflection Seminar on Esports in K12 education, as part of the Future Classroom Lab (FCL) activities. The FCL is an inspirational learning environment in Brussels, challenging visitors to rethink the role of pedagogy, technology, and design in their classrooms. The FCL is also the umbrella under which new and emerging, trends, technologies, and pedagogical practices are tested and explored. As over the last few years, many in the education field have noticed the growing popularity of esports, European Schoolnet through the Future Classroom Lab, brought together innovating practitioners, researchers, and representatives from the industry to explore and exchange on how competitive video gaming can be used within formal education environments, what is their potential to support the building of key competencies and what further research and evidence is needed.
The seminar started with a brief introduction from European Schoolnet Executive Director Marc Durando, followed by a presentation on what esports is and three panel discussions each of which examined the topic from a different perspective – that of educators, that of the edtech industry and that of the academia.
“The objective of this event is to bring together different education stakeholders to exchange, debate, and share their views in order to develop visions for the schools of the future and strategies on how to realise them.”
Marc Durando, European Schoolnet Executive Director
Tom Dore, Head of the British Esports Federation, began by clarifying that esports is not about unhealthy gaming addiction but about using human-vs-human or team-vs-team competitive digital games as a way of furthering students’ education. He supported the idea of promoting esports among young people because it can improve their job readiness in three significant ways. First, practicing esports can help pupils improve their digital skills, critical thinking, strategic thinking, collaborative and other soft skills. Second, introducing esports education in schools can increase students’ interest in adjacent to video games fields such as graphic design, storytelling, management, marketing, anchoring, scriptwriting, event organisation and management among other. Finally, esports can provide children from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and children with disabilities or special education needs with the chance to feel included and participate in joint activities with their peers.
“Many of the young people I worked with are passionate about video games, passionate about play, passionate about all things digital, all things creative. People say that video gaming is a waste of time because it can’t help children find a job. Well, actually, there are a lot of opportunities related to esports out there.”
Tom Dore, Head of the British Esports Federation
Experiences with Esports
After Tom’s introductory presentation, the floor opened for different education stakeholders to share their experiences with esports and their observations on how this new approach to teaching can be implemented in schools.
The first panel was led by European Schoolnet’s Head of Communications Laura Lindberg and had as guests Karl Ögland, initiator of Esports in Education in Finland & content creator at Leart2Esport Education, Shahneila Saeed, Head of Education at Ukie & Director of Digital Schoolhouse, and Dominika Urbanska-Galanciak, Managing Director of the Association of Entertainment Software Developers and Distributors (SPIDOR) in Poland.
The panel focused on showing perspectives from teachers working with students on the ground. They all noted that video games are quite popular among K12 students and in general, students are more engaged and participate in classroom activities more readily if teachers use games and play-based learning.
“Game-based learning uses games to teach skills while esports is the other way around – you need soft skills to succeed”.
Karl Ögland, initiator of Esports in Education in Finland & content creator at Leart2Esport Education
Moreover, participants shared their thoughts on some of the benefits that esports can provide to students. Esports can enable the participation, cooperation, and engagement of students across the gender, socio-economic and physical abilities spectrum while also allowing them to learn from each other and from their mistakes. In this context, it can help them learn soft and personal skills such as leadership and teamwork. In a broader sense, esports creates opportunities for pupils to engage with a larger community of peers with whom they would not have otherwise crossed paths and it can be implemented in both formal and after-school settings. From a pedagogical perspective, the potential benefit that was pointed out was the versatility of esports as a tool for instruction that can be adapted to different subjects and even to cross-curricular project work. Additionally, children can achieve better results and improve their wellbeing when engaged in esports activities.
“In the UK, we have seen a rise in esports-based qualifications and degrees that have esports-focused elements which adds to the credibility of esports and raises awareness. It shows a direct educational pathway to the industry”
Shahneila Saeed, Head of Education at Ukie & Director of Digital Schoolhouse
The challenges that can emerge from introducing esports activities in schools were also discussed. One of the major roadblocks is that many schools across the UK and Europe have tight budgets and lack up-to-date devices, computers with high specifications, access to strong and reliable internet connection needed for esports activities. However, as Shahneila Saeed, Head of Education at Ukie & Director of Digital Schoolhouse, noted, esports activities do not have to be expensive and more small-scale competitions can be organised even with the existing digital infrastructure in schools.
“Esports provides a very important foundation for building self-confidence.”
Dominika Urbanska-Galanciak, Managing Director of the Association of Entertainment Software Developers and Distributors (SPIDOR) in Poland
In addition, speakers highlighted that there is a need for involvement of all school actors across the board, including parents. Dedicated teacher trainings focused on developing educators’ skills are needed to ensure that esports activities are planned and implemented in a safe, inclusive and pedagogically effective way. Guidelines should be developed for parents to inform them and help them ensure their children are safe online.
Potential impact of Esports on Education: Insights from the Industry
The second panel was led by European Schoolnet’s Advocacy & Development Manager Tommaso Dalla Vecchia who was joined by industry representatives Stephen Reid, Game-Based Learning Lead WW at Microsoft, Roberto Rosaschino, Senior EMEA Education & Sustainability Manager at ACER and Stuart Walker, Head of Education at Intel UK.
“Our involvement with esports started four years ago in 2019 with some pilot cases and indeed, we have seen an enormous growth in this arena. Esports isn’t about turning kids into professional sports players but about giving them transferable skills for the work of tomorrow.”
Roberto Rosaschino, Senior EMEA Education & Sustainability Manager at ACER
The panellists shared the perspective of the EdTech industry giants on esports and the potential of video games in general to promote and develop interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects and careers as well as to foster key 21st-century competencies and promote the inclusion of underrepresented communities.
The panel participants agreed that there has been a cascading increase in the interest in esports across school-children age groups and that there is a large potential for esports to support the wider digital skills development efforts in K12 education and increase workplace readiness.
“We stand on the precipice of something that will transform education if we allow it. Rather than looking at this as the growth of esports, I think we should look at it as the return of game-based and playful learning. Esports rests on that foundation.”
Stephen Reid, Game-Based Learning Lead WW at Microsoft
Stephen Reid from Microsoft noted that esports is part of overarching and already well-developed concepts such as active learning, play-based and game-based learning and has the potential to spur growth inclusivity and gender equality. He stressed that esports has the potential to create the most inclusive and diverse environments we have seen. Robert Rosaschino from Acer added that, as a vehicle for learning, esports can be especially useful for teaching transferable skills such as collaboration, leadership, strategic, critical, and analytical thinking. Stuart Walker from Intel concluded by saying that it is important to listen to educators working with students on the ground on what works and what does not in their particular local contexts.
“Over the last few years, we have seen a rapid increase in the interest in esports. There is a clear need for dialogue and for informational support from stakeholders with a wide range of expertise and background knowledge to comprehend how esports can play a role in communities.”
Stuart Walker, Head of Education at Intel UK
The last panel explored the existing evidence on the potential and impact of esports in K12 education as well as key issues and areas that will need further investigation. The exchange was led by Lidija Kralj, Senior Analyst at European Schoolnet, and featured views from Prof. Ernesto Caffo, Founder & President of SOS II Telefono Azzuro Onlus and Fondazione Child, Kalam Neale, Head of Education at British Esports and Tobias Scholz, Founding Chairperson of Esports Research Network & Associate Professor at University of Agder.
“Esports provides the platform and the community for people to connect. Integrity and fair play sit at the heart. And then through these platforms we can teach other subjects.”
Kalam Neale, Head of Education at British Esports
The participants agreed that esports offer great potential to positively impact students’ personal development and support them in enhancing personal skills such as resilience, leadership skills, self-advocacy, strategic thinking and problem-solving. Kalam Neale added that esports can support teaching of subjects among which science, language, and math. Tobias Scholz pointed out that many esports players go on to become successful professionals not only in the esports industry but also in fields such as law, entrepreneurship, finance, management, nutrition, and psychology underscoring the broad positive effect that esports can have on learning in general.
“Humans learn with play. Esports is already 30 years old, so we lost an entire generation not addressing this topic.”
Tobias Scholz, Founding Chairperson of Esports Research Network & Associate Professor at University of Agder
Last but not least, the topic of e-safety was discussed. With regard to students’ online security and cyberbullying, all participants agreed that esports activities need to be governed by rules that ensure everyone’s safety. Educational esports environments need to be designed in a way that involves the teachers and gives them the necessary controls to intervene and moderate the learning process. Further guidelines and supporting materials need to be developed, based on the findings of broader research. Parents, teachers, and other adults have to be included in esports places to ensure student safety and wellbeing, but also to become more aware of this, often misunderstood, activity. Professor Ernesto Caffo added that the specificities of childhood psychological development need to be taken into consideration when further researching the potential of esports in education. Moreover, the possible impact on the mental health of students from various age groups also needs deeper investigation.
“I consider esports to be a wonderful opportunity, but we need more research. Esports spaces need to be managed the right way. We need them to be safe, we need to include education and discuss with institutions how to manage the learning process.”
Prof. Ernesto Caffo, Founder & President of SOS II Telefono Azzuro Onlus and Fondazione Child
Please find below the resources shared by the seminar panellists in the course of the event.
European Parliament Research for CULT Committee: Esports - Background Analysis
Intel Report "Supercharge Future Digital Skills"
British Esports Association - Parents Guide
"Esports Engaging Education" by Digital School House
"Esports Educators Handbook" by Karl Ogland
"Junior Esports Tournament Pilot Evaluation Report" by Digital School House
"Guide to Esports" by SPIDOR Poland
Panel | Safeguarding in esports - Leading the way in best practice - YouTube
‘Geek Girl' gamers are more likely to study science and technology degrees | University of Surrey
Girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue STEM careers than girls who don't - ISFE
Can esports be more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities? - BBC News
Curro eSports partners with Acer
The Women in Esports Committee (britishesports.org)
Why educational institutions should develop Esports programs - and how to start - Acer for Education
Hur fysisk träning påverkar på e-sportarens in-game prestationer. - Theseus
Digital games and health (slideshare.net)
British Esports to open multi-site venue ft. accommodation (esports-news.co.uk)Back