Esports has the adrenaline-fuelled excitement of a traditional sports event, filling stadia and transfixing millions of people with streamed content across the globe. Esports is organised, competitive video gaming, utilising around 35 different video games for human v human game play. To play, all that is required is a PC or console and to watch, just an internet connection and a viewing service such as YouTube Gaming, Twitch or Netflix - and a keen interest in gameplay.
What is esports?
In the UK, esports is defined as a ‘game’ rather than a sport. Like most games, the participant’s physicality is not an issue. The inclusive nature of gaming focuses not on strength and agility like most sports, but on much more cerebral elements including fast reactions, extreme concentration and strategic thinking. However, like more traditional sports, life skills such as effective communication, teamwork and leadership are all developed.
According to Goldman Sachs’ report The World of Games, there are 50 colleges in the USA with varsity esports teams. Akin to traditional sports teams, the stateside professional esport teams train for up to eight hours a day and even have professional coaches and nutritionists. The stars of this new sports arena also command six-figure salaries for their pro-gaming skills, often supplemented by lucrative sponsorship deals.
Taking into account the large prize funds, the global audience of hundreds of millions and revenue opportunities both from advertising and merchandising, it’s easy to see why big business is supporting the growth. However, it’s the raft of benefits away from money and stardom that are most intriguing to BCS.
The founding of the British Esports Association
The huge upsurge in international gaming led to the founding of the British Esports Association in 2016. It is estimated that esports will attract around 300m viewers by 2022 - and could be worth
Chester King, founder and CEO, began the organisation after finding there was nowhere for his teenage son, who was passionate about esports, to find out more about the industry in the UK. He wanted there to be a place that gamers and parents alike could go for information, support and direction within the new industry, from grassroots upwards - much like a traditional national body for, say, rugby or tennis.
Chester said: ‘We were set up to promote esports in the UK, increase its level of awareness, improve standards and inspire future talent. We are not pushing esports as a rival to traditional sport, but as a credible activity in its own right, which can have positive cognitive and other benefits when done in moderation. Esports promotes teamwork and communication, develops communities and provides jobs, and is an exciting activity, particularly for young people.’
In fact, one of British Esports’ aims is to create the British champions of the future. There have been recent news reports from the BBC that esports could be included as an event in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Chester King is the only UK representative to sit on the International Olympic Committee’s Esports Advisory Group, where he is helping to shape the IOC’s esports strategy.
International levels to grassroots
While the British Esports Association is thrilled to be part of the international promotion of esports, it is the grassroots adoption of the game in schools that makes them most proud. Tom Dore, Head of Education at BEA and a well-seasoned schoolteacher, advocates the use of esports as an alternative to traditional team-based activities such as sport, music and drama.
Tom says: ‘Esports allows schools and colleges to engage a wider demographic of young people than traditional extra-curricular activities. Through their participation in esports, young people can develop all the same holistic personal attributes as these traditional activities: teamwork, leadership, communication, problem solving and strategic decision making. Competitive esports competitions, like the British Esports Championships, where teams will experience both winning and losing, also allow young people to learn and develop resilience- exactly like in traditional sports teams.’
Last year, the British Esports Association launched the British Esports Championships for schools, colleges and alternative provision schools. Following a successful pilot in early 2018, British Esports Championships launched in September 2018.
Tom continues: ‘Season one ran until Christmas and season two ran from January until Easter. We had 80 school and college teams per season, playing each other in online fixtures every Wednesday after school, using three different age-appropriate, team-based esports games - League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League.
The winners of each season played in our live grand finals, which were held at Insomnia64, the UK’s largest gaming festival, at the Birmingham NEC over the Easter weekend. The winners of the League of Legends competition got to spend the day with professional organisation EXCEL Esports at their HQ at Twickenham Stadium, home of England Rugby. We have also just finished a ground-breaking eight-week project in eight alternative provision schools; the positive impact of which has far exceeded our expectations.’
Men vs women?
While still a largely male-dominated industry, esports could offer a truly gender-equal playing field. Following on from the recent discussions about what defines gender in traditional sport, esports is inclusive. In fact, Dr Anesa Hosein of the University of Surrey published a study in October 2018, finding that 13 and 14-year-old girls who played computer games for 9+ hours a week, were three times more likely to pursue a degree in STEM subjects than their non-gaming contemporaries.
A degree in esports
While many universities have esports teams, just two are running courses based on the subject. Staffordshire University launched its honours degree course in esports in September 2018. Far from it being a degree in playing games, the course teaches students how to build teams, plan events, create business plans and digital marketing, as well as the ethical and legislative restrictions that govern the industry. Chichester University also offers an esports degree including competitive game play, sports science, psychology, event production and business. In the US there are now over 200 Colleges offering student scholarships for esports in the same way they do for traditional sports.
Positive learning and teamwork from esports
Not confined to university education, esports has an important role to play within all secondary schools and academies, both for academic achievement and pastoral wellbeing.
Tom Dore elucidates: ‘We believe there are clear links between esports and computing education, STEM subjects, and the development of digital skills and digital literacy. Esports can be used as the vehicle to hook, motivate and engage young people and then promote relevant skills, education and career pathways in these areas that are so critical to our society.
To date, very little research has been done to investigate these links, especially in 11-18 education, because esports is such a recent phenomenon. However, we believe strongly this is work that needs to be done. This is why we have reached out to the BCS, STEM Learning, the Royal Institute and local Digital Skills Partnerships, to raise awareness of esports and how it can be used to engage young people.
‘Teachers are told to find an activity to engage young people outside the classroom that helps to build positive, professional relationships with them, which will in turn help back in the classroom. For some teachers, that activity is traditional sport, music or drama. For computing and IT teachers, I strongly believe esports can be that activity; an activity that young people really enjoy and want to do.’