Improving engagement and behaviour is always at the forefront of lecturers’ minds. Often, our solution is to gamify our lessons with the likes of an interactive quiz. But what if there was a way to bring gamification further into our educational settings to drive engagement more broadly?
For those new to the term, esports is not the same as simply playing a video game for fun. Instead, esports is competitive video gaming on the same level as more traditional sports such as football or rugby, with built-in prioritisation of players’ mental and physical health as well as in-game skills.
At St Vincent College in Gosport, our esports journey began in late 2019 when we discovered the British Esports Federation and their student championships through our level 1 IT students. We entered a team and quickly found that giving our students the opportunity to compete against other schools and colleges from the comfort of our educational spaces gave them a platform to develop their understanding of IT terminology and hardware as well as a hobby to strive towards.
The initial uptake was huge, and our first step was to set clear expectations. In order to compete, we insisted that all their work must be handed in on time, their attendance in lessons must be high and their behaviour must be excellent. They obliged, and we saw considerable improvement for the students involved.
Lockdowns impacted, but our students’ understanding of esports and the industry had grown over the short period of time, which allowed us to continue to play in friendly matches known as scrims. We were able to stream these games, giving students and staff not directly involved the ability to watch and support the only active team at the time.
Our expectations set earlier in the year were also adhered to through lockdown, because all our students wanted to compete and represent their team nationally.
In this way, esports kept our learners engaged through lockdown, with many of them completing tasks at home that helped to develop their hard and soft skills as well as evolve our team, the St Vincent Sharks into the organisation it is now.
Students used their own resources and creativity to bring the team to life, from designing the logo and T-shirts to starting social media pages and a YouTube channel.
Alongside this, they continued to make progress in other subjects – from literacy in the form of writing to potential local sponsors to numeracy by working out win percentages and costs to create jerseys. This enrichment opportunity proved to be a huge success and, when we returned to onsite learning, we were pleased to find that it was just as effective at re-engaging learners as it had been at engaging them to begin with.
As a result, we went on to develop our curriculum to offer our students the level 2 and 3 BTECs in esports. We are also extremely proud to have made a professional connection and partnership with Dell Technologies, which has led to the creation of our own 30-seat esports arena, nicknamed The Shark Tank.
Of course, there were hurdles along the way. Ours was configuring our cyber security protocols to enable onsite access to video games and the multiplayer aspect while keeping learners safe and secure online.
But the bigger hurdle for many is likely to be negative assumptions about gaming. For our part, we can truly attest that the benefits of esports considerably outweigh any negative perceptions.
Not only can they be used as a platform for students to develop the transferable skills employers need, but it is a format that is genuinely inclusive and equal for everyone, uniting players through their in-game abilities rather than academic or physical prowess.
We know the benefits of extra-curricular engagement. We accept this with music, traditional sports and even chess clubs. We gamify our subjects all the time to bring some of that competition and fun to our lessons.
Esports are here to stay and every college can benefit from their inclusion. And besides, the Sharks need some competition.