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Develop and Mature an Esports Program in Education

Approach esports across the full K-20 experience.

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Many education professionals both inside and outside of IT are unfamiliar with the esports space and have difficulty addressing the opportunity in a systematic fashion.

Our Advice

Critical Insight

By leveraging a maturity model, an esports program can provide benefits to institutions of education while minimizing the drawbacks of esports and mitigating organizational challenges.

Impact and Result

Gain guidance on what type of initiatives should be taken, depending on the current state of esports activity at your district or institution.


Develop and Mature an Esports Program in Education Research & Tools

1. Deck – Provides an understanding of how an esports program develops in education.

This research supports IT and its involvement in an esports program for education at a school, college, or university. The deck gives an overview of esports in education, presents the situation for esports in K-12, and describes a maturity model for esports in education.

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Develop and Mature an Esports Program in Education

Approach esports across the full K-20 experience.

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Analyst Perspective

Esports is a growing trend for both K-12 and Higher Education, and one which directly involves the IT department. The activity is popular among a wide range of students, many of which are not interested in traditional sports. For this reason alone, the activity is one that can be leveraged in education to encourage retention among students who may otherwise see little extra-curricular involvement on campus.

Despite the lack of physical activity, esports has substantial similarities with traditional sports. This includes its focus on team collaboration and the range of participation, from casual gamers to competitive "athletes" and spectators. These similarities mean that the school or college can leverage their existing athletics expertise to support esports.

The key difference is the technology. IT is often centrally involved in the development and governance of esports. This research provides the IT department with information on the growth of esports in education and how an esports program typically matures. This research is designed to help IT navigate and mature the esports initiative at their district or institution.

This is a picture of Mark Maby

Mark Maby
Research Director for Education,
Industry Practice
Info-Tech Research Group

Executive Summary

Your Challenge

  • Esports is becoming a major trend in the education sector.
  • IT is often involved in the development of an esports program due to the technical nature of its foundation.
  • Many in IT and elsewhere in the school, college, or university are unfamiliar with the esports space and have difficulty addressing the opportunity in a systematic fashion.

Common Obstacles

  • Esports often develops in an ad-hoc fashion with pockets of interest in different areas but lacking a coherent plan.
  • Without a coherent plan, it is difficult to identify initiatives that should be taken, and at what time.
  • The benefits and drawbacks need to be clearly detailed to make the case to leadership.

Info-Tech's Approach

  • Info-Tech's approach is to leverage our maturity model for the development of esports in K-20 education.
  • The maturity model is based on examples of successful esports programs.
  • It details what type of initiatives should be taken depending on the current state of esports activity at the district or institution.

Info-Tech Insight

By leveraging a maturity model, an esports program can provide benefits to institutions of education while minimizing esports' drawbacks and mitigating organizational challenges.

Esports has the potential to be as popular as traditional sports

As with traditional sports, there are professional players, casual players, and spectators.

Gen Z and Millennials spend more leisure time playing video games (25% and 21% respectively) than using social media (18% for both).
(Newzoo's Generations Report: How Different Generations Engage with Games.)

The number of esports enthusiasts is growing. There are currently 22.4 million enthusiasts – that's 6% of the North America population. Enthusiasts watch professional esports content more than once a month. Comparing numbers to traditional sports can be difficult because the streaming audience is much higher than for television. Measurement by enthusiast brings the number down substantially but may be a more accurate comparison to traditional sports viewership by revenue.

Esports vs. Traditional Sports

combination bar and line graph is depicted, showing a comparison between esports and traditional sports

Many colleges and universities are looking to esports to attract students and differentiate themselves from other institutions. For example, Laredo College, a community college with around 10K students, decided to replace all traditional sports programs with esports in 2022. (Gideon)

North America
(Newzoo Global Esports & Live Streaming Market Report)
Population373.2M
Online Population328.8M
Esports Awareness 266.0M
Games Live Streaming Audience 103.7M
Esports Enthusiasts22.4M
Esports Revenues $ 349.7M
Annual Revenue/Enthusiast$15.59

In education, esports supports competition, teaching and learning, and research.

Competition

  • Higher Education: The competitive component includes varsity esports and scholarships, intramural competition, and club teams.
  • K-12: Club teams, summer camps. Extracurricular activity in esports can support skills such as communication, teamwork, and high-pressure problem solving.

Teaching and Learning

  • Higher Education: Courses on esports in the business department are most common.
  • K-12: Integration of esports into the curriculum may come through more educational "games" such as Minecraft and a gamification approach to teaching in general. It may support interest in STEM-related fields.

Research

  • Higher Education: Academic researchers have published on esports in media studies, informatics, business, sports science, sociology, law, cognitive science, and education.

Info-Tech Insight

Within each of these three components there are different levels of maturity that should be considered in the esports strategy.

Esports adoption is still in early stages in education

Esports lacks the governance of traditional sports requiring more flexibility from the institution.

Varsity esports is still developing

  • There is still a large opportunity for colleges and universities to use esports to differentiate themselves from rival institutions. In 2020, there were 4,500 post-secondary institutions in the US, but only 120 had varsity esports (Byrne).
  • Laredo College decided to replace all traditional sports programs with esports in 2022 (Gideon). Laredo is a community college with around 10K students.
  • Collegiate esports is fragmented, without a governing body like the NCAA, due to concerns around players playing for prize money and because the rules and the games themselves are the intellectual property of the software developers (Jamoul).
  • National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) is the largest league with 80 member institutions and 1,500 student athletes. Other leagues include TESPA, Collegiate Starleague, and Riot's College League of Legends, depending on the esport game (Prescott).

Game titles

  • The change in popularity of games happens faster than in traditional sports but slow enough that an audience and competition can develop. Popularity of a title probably lasts 10 years or more.
  • League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and Fortnite are popular titles for esports.
  • The interest a game has among the student body is just as important as the game's overall popularity. Interest at the school or college can vary greatly based on the involvement of expert players.

The value of esports at universities is in recruitment and retention

Esports has become established in higher education and there is now data to support enrolment strategies.

Esports is considered a full K-20 activity spanning the full education journey of most students. For universities, developing ties through esports with local high schools offers a recruitment channel.

A bar graph is depicted, showing the following data: Supplements curriculum …………………………………...…….	 18%; Drives student retention ………………………………………….	 21%; Provides a marketing opportunity …………………………….	24%; Helps with student recruiting …………………………………	38%; Fosters interest in STEM ………………………………………… 	44%; Improves the overall campus experience …………………	56%; Diversifies extracurricular activities …………………………	85%

Esports impacts retention for three reasons:

  1. Many students are engaged in esports.
  2. Many gamers are not yet otherwise engaged on campuses.
  3. Esports can offer multiple points of entry creating a very diverse group. (Hueber)

A survey from DePaul University on the impact of their esports program states:

48%: Involved solely in the esports program.
19%: The esports program was a deciding factor for choosing to attend the university.
63%: Made new friends because of the esports program.
78%: Prefer to play games in physical spaces because of the social connections. (McCarthy, J.)

This sense of community and belonging can directly correlate to retention efforts at DePaul.

Schreiner University reports that students in esports had, for the previous three years, achieved a retention rate that exceeded the university average by 12%. (Hueber)

Esports drawbacks can hinder adoption

While esports promotes an underrepresented population, it carries certain risks.

  • The effect of player training to physical health and mental wellbeing
    • Similar stressor to other sports with added challenge that there isn't physical exercise.
    • Many programs will offer a wellness component to their varsity program.
  • The effect on university academic missions
    • An activity that promotes neither academics nor physical fitness.
  • A male-dominated activity
    • Only 5% of the professional esports athletes are female and 30% of esports viewers are female. (Tang et al.)
    • Alarms about the gaming industry's attitude toward women. (King et al.)
  • Blurred line between amateur and professional (McCarthy, C.)
    • Esports athletes may compete professionally outside of their university team.
    • Betting on esports games is also becoming more common.

The primary barriers to starting an esports program

Lack of faculty or administrative interest..............48%
Cost ................................................................. 45%
Lack of expertise ............................................ 42%
Lack of educational value .................................. 28%
Lack of student interest ..................................... 8%
(Extreme Networks)

The value of esports in K-12 is on skills development and student engagement

To benefit from esports in K-12, the program must address concerns about video games.

K-12 esports usually begins with a champion educator

  • Only a few districts have a strong strategy. For example, in Montreal students participating in esports are treated as specialty athletes.
  • There are associations, such as BC Esports Association, which are set up as non-profit in order to facilitation co-operation with school districts.

Esports and other games such as Minecraft support skills development including

  • Communication.
  • Teamwork.
  • High-pressure problem solving.

Esports has benefits for K-12 education

  • There are the typical benefits of sports or extra curricular activity on academics.
  • Esports also teaches a demographic that may have been left out by traditional activities and sports.

Benefits of an esports program at a Kansas high school

  • Students involved in esports had 94% attendance rate.
  • Their GPA was 1.5 points above school average. (Rothwell and Shaffer)

Esports offers a pathway to higher education

  • Universities are offering scholarships through esports.
  • Many universities are creating summer camps for high school students involving esports among STEM-related activities.

Concerns to esports in K-12 education

  • OCD and ADHD are weighed against the benefits of engagement at school.
  • Violence in games can constrain their selection.
  • Physical fitness and nutrition should be addressed in the esports program.

There are technical challenges for esports in K-12 education

The top advice for K-12 ICT is to make do with what the district can afford.

Two key considerations for K-12 ICT:

  1. Esports generally requires dedicated gaming PCs.
    • This can be a challenge for schools that are heavy on Macs or Chromebooks.
  2. Competitive play will require a strong, fast internet connection, which may require some discussion with the district's ISP.
    • Talk with your ISP for dedicated lines to get the highest speeds possible that are both stable and secure.
    • Ask what throttling would be like on this package.
      • The bandwidth should take into account throttling: a stated speed of 1000 Mbps which drops to 400 Mbps would be acceptable.
    • Ask if there are periods of downtime or maintenance.

The following is the entry level costs for a gaming lab with 24 desktops. (Prescott, 2019, p 12)

Description

Price

Quantity

Total

Hardware Gaming

Entry Desktop

$1,05024$25,200

25" Display 144hz

$25024$6,000

Peripheral Bundle

$17512$2,100
Subtotal$33,300

Networking

Cat 5 Cable

$524$120

Unmanaged Gigabit Network Switch

$50.001$50
Subtotal$170

Office Equipment

Desk

$20026$5,200

Entry Task Chair

$20026$5,200
Subtotal$10,400
Grand Total$43,870

Leverage a maturity model to develop esports in education

The model presented here is primarily designed for esports in higher education; however, K-12 will also benefit from the example.

High financial commitment

Phase 5 ↓ Strategic priority

Phase 4 ↓Formal governance

Phase 3 ↓Varsity and academics

Phase 2 ↓Champion led

Phase 1 ↓ Pockets of interest

Low financial commitment

Top-down approach

  • A priority from the executive
  • Begin at Phase 3 or 4

Bottom-up approach

  • Led by students and a champion from faculty or IT
  • Begin at Phase 1 or 2

Influence

Higher influence

  • President
  • Provost/Enrolment
  • IT/Faculty
  • Students

Lower influence

External factors

  • Government support
  • Benefactors interest
  • Rival schools

Phase 1: Esports is unorganized with pockets of interest

IT may be involved informally to support students and faculty interest.

Student-led clubs

  • Often started by individual students and focused on specific games, making them less an "Esports Club."
  • Operate on the basis of Bring-Your-Own-Tech with PCs and consoles.
  • The students often have a discord server for the esports community.
  • Some may find space to hold events on campus; others may work online.
  • These clubs are prone to stopping out due to recruitment challenges.
  • The challenge is to unify these clubs to provide a safer, more secure environment.

IT Role

IT would work informally with the clubs and faculty depending on their interest and awareness.

Academic Research

Some faculty are conducting esports research. The top fields are:

  • Media studies
  • Informatics
  • Business
  • Sports science
  • Sociology
  • Law
  • Cognitive science

Phase 2: A champion formally addresses esports at the institution

The role of the champion

  • Works with students to charter their club.
  • Works with the institution to secure investment. *
  • Establishes the esports task force.

* Especially needed to address the issues of digital poverty that limit access for some students.

Esports task force

  • Esports Advisory Board is often established with IT's participation.
  • At William & Mary the task force included IT, Business, Arts & Science, and Education.
  • Tasked with surveying interest in esports and developing a plan to move forward.
  • In this phase, IT is likely to become involved as a dedicated space is sought for the club and there may be an opportunity for technology funding.

Technology considerations for IT:

  • Dedicated hardware like Alienware (Dell) and Legion (Lenovo) is important to esports enthusiasts who are technically savy – students will reject an institution with low-powered equipment.
  • The primary concerns are the GPU, the network card, and the refresh rate of the monitor.
  • Typical PC specifications: CPU: Intel Core i7-9700k; RAM: 16GB XPG Memory; OS: Windows 10 64-bit; VIDEO CARD: ASUS GeForce RTX 2070 8GB; MONITOR: ASUS ROG Swift PG248Q 24" 180Hz. (UCI Esports)
  • Security concerns include physical security of the room (fewer windows are better), software security because encryption can create latency and creating a separate VLAN network outside of the domain.

Phase 3: The institution commits with a varsity team and course offerings

The technology requirements for varsity competition will be higher than for clubs. IT may want to establish a connection with an esports MSP for tournaments.

Varsity team

There isn't an equivalent of NCAA in varsity esports (UCI Esports) to regulate it as with traditional college sports. Institutions will set their own standards for play including technical specifications for games they host, addressing equity issues, and setting a policy on video game violence such as with first person shooter games.

Prize money and sponsorship is an issue with esports, as the line between pro athlete and amateur is more blurred than in traditional sports. At Simon Fraser University, the esports team played under an affiliated name for collegiate sports and an unaffiliated name for prize money tournaments. (McCarthy, C.)

Developing academics

Esports-related courses are often offered around the time an institution starts a varsity team. This further validates the interest within the academic community.

Top programs

  • Business 80%
  • Communications 15.8%
  • Sports 12.6%
  • Technology and game design 10.5%
  • Esports 3.2%
  • Gambling 1.1%

Coaches

The choice of which game titles to pursue will go hand-in-hand with the recruitment of coaches.

Scholarships

The website berecruited.com has information on collegiate esports scholarships throughout North America.

Phase 4: Establishment with formal governance and community outreach

IT will be involved in the governance of esports and may offer guidance in its creation.

Where should esports reside?

  • Where esports resides varies according to the dynamics of specific institutions.
  • However, in any educational institution the ultimate purpose of esports is for recruitment and retention.
  • For this reason, esports should be the responsibility of the Student Affairs department as they have the ultimate responsibility over non-academic aspects of retention.
  • The academic governance of the esports curriculum should be addressed through a faculty advisory committee.
  • Athletics would also be an appropriate home. Often however, Athletics itself reports up to Student Affairs.
  • Athletics may have reservations about the lack of amateurism of esports.

Steering Committee

Typical membership

  • Ancillary Services
  • IT
  • Athletics
  • Student Services
  • Advancement
  • Student representation
  • Representative from FAC
  • Industry representation

Faculty advisory committee (FAC)

Representatives from departments delivering esports-related courses and research.

Operations

  • Student employment may begin to co-ordinate the events.
  • Co-operation with organizations such as NASEF or BC Esports for tournaments.

K-12 Summer Camp

  • A university or college may create a K-12 summer camp to recruit high school students.
  • Challenges include:
    • Registration with advisors.
    • Measuring the impact on K-12 outreach.

Phase 5: The institution makes esports a strategic priority

Not only will IT be involved in the establishment of the new facility but also in the management of sponsors who are donating equipment.

University esports facilities

Examples of prominent esports facilities:

  • UC Irvine 2018 - 3,500 ft2
  • Shenandoah University 2019 – 1,571 ft2
  • St. Clair College 2022 – 15,000 ft2
  • Butler University 2022 – 7,500 ft2

(Kell et al.; UCI Esports)

Usage

The facility cannot be simply a dedicated arena but should offer more continual use. Other uses include classroom, office space for administration of an academic esports program or for partner organizations, co-working space, and VR capabilities. (Chiang)

Funding

Institutions will often leverage sponsorships and donations from benefactors to support the development of a dedicated esports facility.

  • UC Irvine generated over $1 million in cash and product to develop their facility and program. (Stone)
  • St Clair College's facility was part of a larger expansion for the schools of business and IT. (WindsoriteDOTca)
  • There is also an opportunity to charge per hour for use of the facility to support operational costs.

Essential components

  • Competition space (stage and open areas)
  • Broadcast capabilities,
  • Studio
  • Commons area
  • Aesthetic furniture and fixtures
  • 24+ gaming computers
  • 3+ consoles

Broadcasting equipment

Multi-track mixer; headphone amp; stereo headsets; four-channel HDMI video capture card; HD professional camcorder; HD streaming webcams; 3200-watt lighting kit; two PCs; live video streaming software, and Open Broadcaster Software.
(UCI Esports)

Phase 5: The institution makes esports a strategic priority

An example of the operational and governance structure of a mature esports program.

Operations

Student Affairs

Overall responsibility of esports typically resides in Student Affairs to align with its strategic oversight of retention.

Athletics is also a common home; often a moot point since Athletics usually reports up to Student Affairs as well.

Governance

Paid Positions

  • Director of esports
  • Coach per esports game
  • Facility staff

Internal Partners

  • Psychologist
  • Physiologist
  • Videographers
  • Academic researchers of esports

Steering Committee

  • Student Affairs
  • Athletics
  • Health & Wellness
  • Planning
  • Information Technology
  • Educational Technology
  • Representative from the Faculty Advisory Board
  • Industry representatives *

* Depending on the strategic direction of the institution.

Faculty Advisory Committee

This committee typically represents departments delivering courses and conducting research on esports, such as:

  • Business
  • Education
  • Psychology

Internships

  • Broadcasting
  • Graphic design
  • Journalism
  • Social media
  • Digital marketing
  • Manager per esport game

External Partners

  • Non-profits to promote esports through K-20
  • NASEF and BC Esports are two examples

Contributors

Leo Atkins
Technologist Consultant
Dell Technologies

Derian Chow
President and Co-Founder
British Columbia Esports Association

Katina Papulkas
Senior Higher Education Strategist
Dell Technologies

Danielle Rourke
Senior Higher Education Strategist
Dell Technologies

Bibliography

Byrne, Shaun. Chapter 2: Understanding Esports - Athletes, Fans and Gaming Culture. 2019-2020 Guide to Esports, UB Tech and University Business, 2019, pp. 20–23.
Chiang, Kathy. Chapter 4: Esports Arenas and Facilities: What To Build and How To Build It. 2019-2020 Guide to Esports, UB Tech and University Business, 2019, pp. 24–26.
Extreme Networks. "Booming Esports Market Has More Than 70% of Schools Considering an Esports Program." Extreme Networks. Accessed 7 July 2022.
Gideon, Matthew. "Laredo College Replacing All Traditional Sports Programs With Esports." Business of Esports, 14 Apr. 2022.
Hueber, Dr. Charles M. "Esports: A Key in Student Retention." APCA. Accessed 7 July 2022.
Jamoul, Ramsey. Chapter 5: Hardware, Infrastructure and Games. 2019-2020 Guide to Esports, UB Tech and University Business, 2019, pp. 24–26.
Kell, Joshua, et al. "FETC - Esports Arena Development." Edge Consulting, 2022.
King, Michele R., et al. The Implementation of an Academic and Applied Esports Program in Higher Education: A Case of Diversity, Inclusion, and Building Community. Esports Research and Its Integration in Education, IGI Global, 2021, pp. 186–209.
McCarthy, Claudine. Get an Insider's Glimpse into Potential Impact of Esports. College Athletics and the Law, vol. 15, no. 12, Mar. 2019, pp. 6–7.
McCarthy, John P. Connecting Students to School Culture and Career Opportunities Through Broad Access to Esports and Gaming: So All Can Learn Through Play. Esports Research and Its Integration in Education, IGI Global, 2021, pp. 1–13.
Newzoo. "Newzoo Global Esports & Live Streaming Market Report." Newzoo, 2020.
---. "Newzoo's Generations Report: How Different Generations Engage with Games." Newzoo, 2021.
Prescott, Dr. Jay. Introduction. 2019-2020 Guide to Esports, UB Tech and University Business, 2019, pp. 2–12.

Rothwell, Gregory, and Michael Shaffer. "ESports in K-12 and Post-Secondary Schools." Education Sciences, vol. 9, no. 2, 2019.
Statistica. "Sport Video Viewership 2021." Statista. Accessed 7 July 2022.
Stone, Adam. "Maximizing ROI: Lessons from Collegiate Esports Investments." EdTechh: Focus on Higher Education. Accessed 6 July 2022.
Tang, Tang, et al. Gendered Esports: Predicting Why Men and Women Play and Watch Esports Games. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 65, no. 3, May 2021, pp. 336–56.
UCI Esports. "Tools for Schools." UCI Esports Wiki, 10 Mar. 2020.
WindsoriteDOTca. "St. Clair College Unveils New Zekelman Centre Of Business And Information Technology." WindsoriteDOTca News. Accessed 5 July 2022.

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Author

Mark Maby

Contributors

  • Leo Atkins, Technologist Consultant, Dell Technologies
  • Derian Chow, President and Co-Founder, British Columbia Esports Association
  • Katina Papulkas, Senior Higher Education Strategist, Dell Technologies
  • Danielle Rourke, Senior Higher Education Strategist, Dell Technologies
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