What Is Esports?
Esports is a subcategory of the gaming industry where teams participate in organized, primarily online, video gaming competitions. Multiple players work together to compete against an opposing team with a shared objective to win a game. It requires practice, skill building, and dedication. To succeed, the players must rely on quick problem-solving, team collaboration, fast reaction times, and communication. The teams and the sport have a fanbase that comes together to watch and support participants as they play.
Competitive video gaming itself is not new. However, several factors have contributed to the rise in interest and participation in organized esports. Improvements in modern computing power, performance, graphics, and internet connectivity speed have made game play more immersive and interactive. Additionally, well-loved games, such as League of Legends and Valorant, have significantly boosted esports’ popularity. Streaming services like Twitch and YouTube, through which players can broadcast their game play and spectators can watch live or post competition, also contribute to the rising interest in esports.
Today, esports is played professionally as well as at the collegiate and secondary education levels, particularly in grades 6 to 12, as a sought-after extracurricular activity. Some schools are now introducing esports in some form at the primary school level with age-appropriate games, such as Minecraft and Rocket League.
Many at first glance may wonder about offering esports as a school-based activity. However, the impacts of game-based learning and participation in extracurricular activities, in general, have been studied and have been shown to offer many cognitive, behavioral, and social benefits. Some key benefits include positive impacts on student self-esteem; increased focus in class; increased participation, engagement, and attendance; and improved academic performance.1 2 3
Today, most students already recreationally play video games. Through the formation of school-sponsored, extracurricular esports teams and leagues, schools can extend students’ excitement and interest in video gaming while also capturing the associated skill-building and social-emotional benefits.
Gaming offers numerous strategic, situational, and skill-building benefits. Strategic and analytical skills come into play as students select their own characters, examine their opponents’ characters, and determine how to defeat those opponents based on that selection. As they learn how to position each player’s character on a map or in an arena, students can develop strategic knowledge in game theory. This is the mathematical concept where players’ interactive choices affect or produce specific outcomes. Throughout the game, students use problem-solving skills to respond to new or unexpected situations and obstacles.
With constant, hands-on exposure to computers during esports practices and tournaments, students also learn how computers function and the impact of different components like the CPU, GPU, memory card, motherboard, and cooling system on performance and game play. When preparing for a tournament, students learn how to organize and participate in competitive events beyond the gaming itself. Through these active learning experiences, students gain new technical skills that they can apply outside of esports. They may also be introduced to new roles that inspire future career choices, such as project management, event coordination, or broadcast engineering.
School-sponsored esports leagues can foster positive interactions and friendships among students, teach teamwork and communication skills, provide opportunities to build leadership skills, and create a sense of belonging for students.
A unique benefit of school-sponsored esports is its equitable and inclusive nature and the ability for all students with an interest and enthusiasm for gaming to participate regardless of skill level, physical abilities, gender identity, or age. With esports, the focus is on team building and shared enjoyment of the game.
Whether a student wants to be a competitive gamer or not, there are many ways to be actively involved in the team—for example, being a shoutcaster and providing play-by-play commentating during games, helping with technical setup, managing team statistics, participating in practices, or helping to build school support and spirit. Whether engaging in game play with peers, participating in practice or competition, or just observing, students can learn how to create more-positive gaming environments as they venture outside of school to play online.
Esports can also inspire students to pursue higher education or careers in STEAM, such as game design, computer science, data analysis, broadcasting, music production, or graphic design. Today, many colleges and universities have esports intramural teams or offer esports degrees. Some institutions even provide scholarships for students to join collegiate esports leagues and compete in esports tournaments that are designed specifically for college-aged students. Nonprofits such as the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) also provide students with the structure and tools needed to advance into a varsity esports team. While only a subset of students will become professional, competitive players, these collegiate opportunities provide entry points into higher education.
Starting an Esports Team
Similar to other organized sports, creating an esports team requires several key steps. We’ve provided a high-level summary of those steps and considerations here. For more specific details, download the 2022 Intel-sponsored white paper on esports in education.
Align and Secure Stakeholder Buy-In
Building and supporting a team is not just about students. School administration, staff, parents, and members of the community are all stakeholders whose support you need to be successful. Start by clearly identifying the scope, intention, and goals for your esports team and the level of required commitment, both time and monetary. Help to educate stakeholders on what esports is and its benefits while addressing common concerns.
Select a Coach
Esports coaches and advisers should be excited to facilitate a positive, inclusive environment while having legitimate knowledge of esports in general. Coaches can be current staff members or hired into a dedicated role. Coaches or advisers brought on early in the process can also help IT staff and administrators define team structure. Additionally, they can recommend esports game options, help find an appropriate league, and identify needs, including space and equipment requirements. Identifying potential game choices early can help with stakeholder buy-in and inform equipment needs.
Identify Practice and Competition Spaces
When it comes to selecting a space, there are several activities that should be considered. Teams will need a battle station area where team members are physically set up with chairs, tables, desktop PCs, and peripheral devices. If space allows, you might have both a practice and competition space, or these may be the same. Similarly, if space allows, you might also consider adding a spectator area—where an audience can come to watch competitions in person or to view a livestream of the game—and/or a broadcast area where students not competing provide live commentary on the game play. Additionally, you’ll need to ensure that the spaces you select can adequately support the power and cooling requirements for multiple gaming machines.
Gather Necessary Equipment
Fortunately, most schools can get started with equipment that they already have, from physical equipment like tables and chairs to computing equipment, including desktop PCs, monitors, keyboards, and mice. However, in esports, there is a direct correlation between system performance and player performance and the outcome of the game. In order to maintain a competitive edge, having a powerful CPU and GPU, between 8 GB and 16 GB of memory, and high-speed SSD storage can make all the difference for an esports team.
Of all the computing hardware considerations—including form factor, CPU, GPU, memory, and storage—the most important to focus on from the start is the CPU, which affects everything from frame rate to general stability to battery life (for laptops).
Intel has a strong history in the gaming industry. That’s why we built the latest generation of Intel® Core™ processors specifically for gamers. With the latest generation of Intel® Core™ processors, students can experience rapid connectivity with Intel® Wi-Fi 6E and smooth, high-quality streaming without interference. Intel® Core™ CPUs starting with the 12th generation use a performance hybrid architecture design by integrating both Performance-cores and Efficiency-cores, which can increase performance when using demanding applications. The latest gen of Intel® Core™ processors also has built-in noise suppression, auto-framing, and optimization for bandwidth and video resolution while gaming, allowing gamers more freedom while they multitask between game play, streaming, and browsing.
The good news is that you can take a modular approach, starting with devices you have that meet minimum requirements and upgrading to performance devices and monitors and peripherals designed for gaming over time as needed.
Build the Team
Finally, you’ll get the chance to form the team. After gathering student interest, find out students’ gaming preferences and how often they would like to practice. Once a team is established, make sure to articulate goals, team structure, schedules, and other expectations. Depending on your vision for the program, you will need to determine if the esports team needs to join an esports league.
Source and Maintain Funding
As with other sports, having an esports team requires an investment of time and money. Fortunately, start-up costs are low, and equipment can be added and upgraded over time. Ongoing funding will be required for league and tournament fees, possible compensation for coaches, and operational costs for practice and competition spaces. In addition, funding may be needed for maintaining and adding equipment as the program evolves.
The Rise of Esports in Schools
By taking full advantage of esports’ popularity, schools can enable students to succeed academically and socially while also preparing them for future careers. At Intel, we’re focused on continuing to use our expertise to help elevate esports experiences for all students.