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ISTELive 22: The Case for Empowering Kids With Esports

Veteran esports leaders on Tuesday at the ISTELive 22 annual conference explained the myriad benefits of those programs, from promoting social-emotional well-being to laying the groundwork for technical careers.

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A panel session during the ISTELive 22 Conference in New Orleans this week extolled the benefits of esports programs.
ISTELive 22
As recently as a half-decade ago, esports, or competitive video gaming, might have been an afterthought for many school districts. Of late, however, there has been a significant rise in interest in the field, with Georgia schools using COVID-19 relief funds to buy gaming desktops and Iowa schools promoting them as a route to accolades and scholarships, to name a few. So it's no wonder esports had a notable presence at the International Society for Technology in Education's annual conference this week in New Orleans, ISTELive 22, with booths on the expo floor and a Tuesday panel session to discuss approaches to, and benefits of, implementing esports programs in schools.

The session revolved around a book, The Esports Education Playbook: Empowering Every Learner Through Inclusive Gaming, co-written by the panelists: Chris Aviles, a New Jersey middle school STEM teacher and co-founder of nonprofit Garden State Esports; Steve Isaacs, education program manager for Epic Games and another co-founder of Garden State Esports; and Jesse Lubinsky, co-founder of the instructional design company Ready Learner One. A fourth co-author, Ready Learner One's Chief Strategy Officer Christine Lion-Bailey, was not in attendance.

Aviles and Isaacs said they've long been integrating gaming into learning environments, with Aviles creating an esports team at his middle school in 2018 — the first such team in a middle school in U.S. history, he said. That led to the founding of the nonprofit Garden State Esports, whose goal is providing scholastic esports to help students grow socially, emotionally and academically.

“No one is joining Garden State Esports for the gaming,” Aviles said in the session. “It’s for the social/emotional well-being and the CTE.”

The program's success led to Isaacs and Aviles to partner up with Lubinsky and Lion-Bailey to write a book explaining how esports can be a beneficial tool to use in helping student growth. It covers research, debunked myths about gaming, how educators can approach stakeholders about approving esports programs, and how to create the program itself, but panelists said the first and most important section is about social-emotional learning within esports.

“If you understand why it’s good, that’s the most important part of the esports program,” Lubinsky said. “And everything else falls into place.”

Aviles said that trends in the field are revealing that more than half of club advisers have never played a game before, and more than half of the league is run by women.

“We are using what kids love and teaching kids what they need to know,” Aviles said about setting kids up for post-graduation careers, notably in technology, content creation and broadcasting.

“These kids are exposed to many different career paths,” Isaacs said. “The goal is to create industry standard training through these programs.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.