With national support and the possibility of college scholarships, a growing number of high schools are organizing their video gaming students into competitive esports teams. But the activity has raised a few concerns.
Parents concerned about the amount of time their teenagers spend playing video games may be heartened to learn that more than 200 colleges are now offering esports scholarships for gamers. And these aren’t diploma-mill schools desperate for students. The colleges on this list include respected institutions such as UC-Irvine, Marquette and Ohio State.
“Really?” you might ask, ”College scholarships for playing video games? How did that happen?” Well, if there wasn’t money to be made from esports teams, colleges would likely be content to let students continue as they have: playing video games late into the night in their dorms and then showing up bleary-eyed for class. But colleges apparently noticed that nearly 100 million people tuned in to watch the League of Legends video game world championship in 2018, that's more viewers than for the Super Bowl.
Colleges are also recognizing that esports can bring in new sponsorship deals, esport arenas, promotional opportunities and maybe even some TV money. And though the NCAA has decided not to take a governing role over college esports for now — leaving that responsibility to third-party groups — one should look for these esports programs to continue expanding.
At the high school level, with hopes of providing students with more extracurricular opportunities while also opening new college scholarship avenues, schools across the country are forming esports teams. A partnership forged in 2018 between the National Federation of State High School Associations and the online gaming network is making it all possible. State athletic and activity associations are also getting involved and organizing state-sanctioned tournaments. Here in New Mexico, our first high school esports state tournament was held this past spring.
I’m no gamer, so I did some research on high school esports programs to better understand this growing phenomenon. Here are some of my takeaways.
Esport Positives: Like other extracurricular activities, most schools require students playing on esports teams to maintain passing grades and good attendance. And since playing video games is often a solitary experience, schools see big pluses in getting students who would probably otherwise not be playing a school sport involved in a socially positive team activity. The same benefits students gain by participating on other school teams — be they sports or debate — can also be associated with esports. Meaning, there are lots of things to like about schools organizing esports teams.
There are indeed some potential downsides to school-sponsored esports teams. But as we’re learning, there are also some serious risks involved in other high schools sports, such as boys’ football and girls’ soccer. So, as the high school esports world grows, as it undoubtedly will, schools should develop some safeguarding practices to protect their esport players from the adverse effects of the games.
Want to know more about esports from a parenting perspective? A 2018 Common Sense Media article offers a good esports overview.