Close your eyes and think of a school. Most likely, you’ll see long hallways of lockers, classrooms with whiteboards at the front, and a field of some sort outside. Or, maybe a gym. You may even smell the rubber dodgeballs you spent all of seventh-grade P.E. avoiding.
Sports are an integral part of the school experience. For the upcoming generation of students, however, memories of sports on campus will be different thanks to esports. Yet, for many schools, it’s still hard to imagine esports’ place in their halls, let alone visualize how to build an esports team.
Esports looks so different from red, rubber dodgeballs, after all.
From identifying your community’s interest in esports to learning how esports can shape your student’s futures, this post will be your one-stop shop to create a new vision of the school sports experience.
Esports involves more than just playing video games the same way football involves more than just playing catch. In order to bring esports into your organization, it begins from genuine curiosity. If you’re currently working in education and interested in esports, don’t focus on becoming an expert in the industry (or even a player). Just be curious and you’ll learn over time. We all (well, most of us) understand how the Super Bowl works, even if we’ve never held a football.
Watching a professional esports match on Youtube or Twitch is a simple and early introduction to what it means to play video games competitively. While it may seem like a niche at first, you will quickly realize the growing potential esports has for student athletes previously unable to compete in physically demanding sports.
By first familiarizing yourself with the games, community, and goals of esports, you’ll be better able to approach the steps to build a team. You’ll also be more open-minded to the opportunities in diversity, innovation, and camaraderie having esports on your campus can build.
According to Gabriel Yanagihara, Head Esports Coach at ʻIolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii, starting with a “core group of players who are dedicated” to esports growing on your campus is key. As the adult on campus, whether you are a parent, administrator or faculty member, the esports decisions should always be made with the students’ goals in mind.
In other words, don’t build an esports team just to have one. Esports on your campus should come about because students are interested and empowered to have an active role in changing the landscape of their school, with a specific landscape for esports top-of-mind.
Yanagihara suggests finding a group of students deeply interested in not just playing esports, but ensuring there is an esports team or program still intact even after they graduate. He notes, when students lead… “they will work as your leadership team to help manage registration, tryouts, practices and setting the tone and culture for your community. It's important to foster a wholesome, inclusive, and positive environment from the beginning.”
As the adult advisor or administrator, you support your students' agency. However, you must continually foster your own.
Now that you have your dedicated students, you must advocate for your esport team’s growth. Like other sports, esports requires an infrastructure.
Yanagihara shared his three must-haves for any budding esports team: “A dedicated coach, a student leadership team, and the willingness to work through the technical hurdles.”
Let’s imagine, again, the advocacy necessary to build a new football field on a campus. Athletic Directors and Coaches work with one another to make it happen. They rely on their networks to learn strategies for support and garnering the necessary materials in order for their project to happen. Esports development on a campus requires the same process, just with computers, internet and games instead of 100-yards of field and bleachers.
Recounting his experience with the early building days of their esports team, Yanagihara remembers how “students worked on PowerPoint presentations, community events, making websites and writing articles to convey how passionate they were about esports.” These advocacy skills will impact a students’ futures beyond just playing competitively. They’ll gain interdisciplinary skills for a dynamic set of career paths.
Building from scratch is never easy. Especially with something as novel as esports. But, esports is here to stay. So, how do we stay with it?
Sustained growth and esports success at academic institutions occurs through strong networks. Utilize your local community’s esport resources. Find niched resources (like you are now) that dive into specific areas of your esport team’s current development needs.
Here are some repeatable things you can do to get into the practice of sustained esports team growth:
- Talk with other organizations who have esports clubs, teams or infrastructures. Learn their story and continue to share stories
- Create a regular meeting of esports individuals in your network or expand your network via social media or email
- Don’t forget to think beyond your state sometimes, too. Find other organizations with esports teams that you admire. Look particularly for schools of a similar size to your own
- Make time to dive into up to date industry news to best prepare your students for their esports journey
If you’re reading this, you’re already ahead of the game. (Get it, game. Puns always intended). As you approach building your team, remember:
- Familiarize yourself with the professional esports industry to level-set your expectations and understanding
- A Community of dedicated students will propel the goals of your esports team for years to come
- Advocate for your infrastructure needs, but don’t do it alone. Rely on a growing network of schools and organizations supporting esports efforts
- Sustain your team’s growth through mapping others’ success onto your program. Learn what works best for your students and be nimble enough to change it as the industry continues to evolve.