If I had told my parents I wanted to study competitive gaming in college, I can only imagine the explosive reaction I would have experienced. Fortunately, public opinion about gaming has changed considerably since I left school in 2010, and an interesting twist of fate resulted in my younger brother actually experiencing this hypothetical scenario late last year when they announced they were going to study. esports. To my surprise, I was the only family member who was opposed to the idea.
For those not on the circuit, esports is an abbreviation for ‘e-sports’ that refers to competitive video games. I was harboring the same reservations I assumed my parents would have – that the chances of a career as a ‘pro gamer’ were slim, and that pursuing that dream came with a lot of risk. I tentatively suggested safer (albeit more boring) course options that I believed would offer more useful career skills, but I was quickly rejected by not only the rest of my siblings, but my parents as well.
As it turns out, they are not alone. a united kingdom Dell Technologies study found that 48% of parents believe e-sports should be added to the school/college curriculum, while 69% think e-sports can enable their children to develop skills they may not obtain through traditional education methods.
In fact, it’s not just parents who have a positive view of esports in education, as alongside the 1,500 parents surveyed in the study, another 500 financial decision makers such as principals and department heads also expressed a positive view of the subject, with a whopping 79% believing it should be taught in schools.
Not just for the rich kids
The same data also confirms some suspicions I had, with only 32% of the same parents expressing that they would be happy for their children to pursue a career in esports and 67% admitting that their own lack of education on the subject made it difficult to discuss. Given the seemingly explosive rise in popularity over the last decade, this is an understandable concern and one that I fell into myself despite actively watching and supporting the esports industry.
One trap I fell into was thinking that these kids would literally be sitting in front of an expensive game system for 8 hours a day learning game skills to League of Legends, Dota 2 and other popular competitive titles. In fact, courses created by the British Sports Association are well balanced, teaching essential skills that are easily applicable outside of a gaming environment, such as social media marketing, broadcasting, business planning and event production.
Being introduced to these skill sets can connect to a wide variety of careers, so that even if the student chooses not to pursue esports after graduation, they will have the means to enter the world of community management, game publishing, and marketing, just to name a few. In fact, this same brother who expressed interest in the esports course stopped following journalism and broadcasting after falling in love with shoutcasting (a style of live broadcast commentary born out of esports).
One of the biggest concerns I had outside of how these courses would be beneficial in the long run was also about their diversity. After all, consoles, gaming computers and laptops are incredibly expensive, and not all households have the luxury of providing this type of hardware, which can effectively exclude low-income households or the care system from applying in the first place.
I was fortunate enough to discuss these concerns with Camilla Maurice, who runs an esports course at Mid Kent College. She expressed that not only do 70% of parents believe that esports promotes inclusivity, but also that the hardware needed to join the course was much more affordable than I initially assumed, as most of the expensive technology required for gaming and streaming is often made available on campus. She stated that “kids only need access to a laptop or tablet to take the course, so the hardware they need at home is not much different from what any other course requires.”
Kill them with kindness (virtually speaking)
Finances aside, this wasn’t the only inclusion issue I was concerned about. While gender discrimination is rare in professional games, it will be hard to find a player who hasn’t experienced toxic behavior because of her sex in online gaming lobbies. I myself no longer play any competitive titles because of this, so I was relieved to hear that this is something that is being addressed in courses currently in progress.
Gary Tibbet, education manager for the British Esports Association informed me that toxic behavior is covered in the curriculum, stating that “we have a zero-tolerance policy on any type of toxic behavior. Attacking someone based on anything of their gender or in-game skill is not allowed. We are seeing a much more inclusive environment within colleges these days as people begin to understand that their classmates are there because they share a common interest and passion.”
It seems that, in addition to skills that will be genuinely useful outside of games, people taking these courses are also learning to have a healthy relationship with online spaces and competitive environments. Regardless of your feelings towards kids wanting to be ‘pro gamers’, nipping trollish and toxic behavior in the bud is a positive step forward.
It is likely that global lockdowns related to Covid-19 have also helped to foster some positive attitudes towards hobbies such as gaming. With families stuck at home, parents had a great opportunity to understand more about their children’s sports and games, reducing the stigma associated with them. After all, outside of video calling platforms like Zoom, online games offered the opportunity for children to interact with their friends during a time when no one could leave the house.
The last few months have certainly opened my eyes to an educational bias I didn’t know I had. Hypocritically, my own degree specialized in prosthetic makeup and wig making, which is a far cry from writing about computing and gaming, but you’d be surprised how well the two skills can overlap.
Yes, it is statistically unlikely that all graduates of these courses will go on to become a famous esports athlete, but they could be production managers, journalists, and more, all while having a healthier relationship with gaming at age than previous generation. As the esports and gaming industry continues to grow, we’re going to need a lot more of this.