Esports and schools feel like a pretty strange fit. Regular sports have always gone with schools, but adding esports still feels strange.

Part of the reason is that for the last several decades the standard schools curriculum has undergone shrinkage. If you talk to boomers you are likely to hear stories about shop class, home economics, and sometimes even driving all offered in High School. Twenty years ago everyone was talking about necessary cuts to music and arts classes. And even though there are some high schools where certain sports are well funded, there are plenty where even those have struggled to make ends meet.

The reasons aren’t financial alone, although the narrative often is. Almost as important is the standardized tests. During No Child Left Behind student performance on those tests were everything for schools, and spending energy teaching kids to play the violin or draw was not something schools prioritized. Colleges put pressure on this too. The UC A-G requirements may require a one year of arts course, but the all-important list of courses that the UC system counts as honors for their GPA don’t include a lot of art classes.

But separate from the “requirements” that the system puts on students, educators have known that taking part in extracurricular activities boosts student success, whether it is the chess club or the football team. Students who are invested in extracurriculars do better in school

They miss less school (chronic absenteeism is a massive problem right now), graduate at a higher rate, and do better in math and reading. And all it takes is for students to feel invested.

This has led to a recent rebound in courses and extracurriculars focused on things that are already compelling to students.This has included things around video/content creation, stocks and investment, and of course video games. There are few things teenagers spend more time on than video games. 

For years those students who played a lot of video games would endure jokes that they could get jobs as “video game testers”, but the increasing prominence (and money) in Esports has convinced some teachers and administrators that it makes sense to have a program at their school. 

There are some advantages, some disadvantages, and a lot of similarities between esports and more traditional sports.

For the similarities, strategic and tactical thinking often play a role in both. Planning and drilling football plays compares to the kind of practice and strategizing that esports players undergo. Teamwork is often just as relevant, although superstar players can dominate in either. And both contain paths to college: there are over $200,000 worth of scholarships available next year in esports.

But the disadvantage is that esports includes a lot less physical exercise. Play and practice involves time seated at a computer and not running or lifting weights. The same health problems that are getting worse across so many areas of society are a problem in esports.

The other side of that coin is that everyone gets to participate. There is less of a premium placed on physical characteristics so those who are disabled or simply shorter than would normally be able to participate in sports may feel much more at home in esports. Anyone with enough determination and practice would be able to succeed in the field. Sean Astin’s Rudy could have been a star if only he had chosen League of Legends instead of football.

But the most valuable part of an esports program is that it leverages something the students are already engaged in. If watching Counter Strike GO videos is already a passion of yours, you’re going to be a lot more interested in practicing and playing for a chance to be a great player one day.

Focusing on what students are already interested in is something schools have leaned away from in the past. All of the 1980’s passed without any national push for guitar classes. But now we have a chance to incorporate something that a lot of students care about.

Getting esports into the curriculum can provide a fresh and dynamic approach to education, helping to re-diversify a cookie-cutter curriculum, and it might even lead to more diversity in STEM careers. It may seem like a strange fit from the outside but it is making more and more sense for students.

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