To say esports is booming would be an understatement. Esports, or electronic sports, is the term used to describe the sport of competitive video game playing. The world of professional esports has exploded over the last few years and is expected to reach nearly 5 billion in value and a global audience of nearly 600 million people by 2020.  Last year, the second most watched sporting event in America after the Superbowl was the League of Legends finals. Three of the top ten most watched sporting events last year were esports events. By 2020 esports will be the second most watched sport in America, second only to football.

Every teacher’s favorite game, Fortnite, just announced they’ll be putting 100 million dollars (about two weeks of revenue!) into their esports scene this year as it brings competitive Fortnite to their 125 million players in 2019. Esports, like Fortnite, isn’t going anywhere. The professional esports scene has never had more players, events, prize money, or a bigger audience.  Esports has passed the tipping point. Esports is here to stay and teachers should not only care, we should be excited.

Thanks to the passion of students and the support of the video game industry, esports is also finding a home in higher education. Currently, more than 475 of the nation’s colleges now support esports at the club level, and an estimated 50 schools provide a total of more than $9 million in scholarships to talented gamers. Colleges are offering full rides for esports games like Overwatch, CS:Go, League of Legends, and more. Next year, the popularity and opportunities in esports will only continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The Big Ten will launch its esports league next year, complete with a TV deal, along with 200 other colleges who will be launching varsity gaming at varying levels of competition. Chris Haskell, the esports coach at Boise State, predicts the number of colleges offering esports opportunities and scholarship may be as high as 450 colleges by 2019. And yes, you can now earn a Fortnite scholarship. In Jersey, even our state university, Rutgers, has an esports team now! To the delight of some, and dismay of others, the growth of esports at the college level is leading to the growth of esports at the high school and middle school levels as a the school-to-college esports pipeline develops.

I can feel the eye rolls from those of you who don’t get it, so let me help you understand why esports in education is a good thing. I was a good high school athlete. I’ve played sports at the collegiate level. I’ve also coached varsity sports for ten years. I also enjoy playing video games on a competitive level. I’m pretty good at those, too. Having a foot in both worlds, I have no problem saying esports is as valuable to a student’s social/emotional development as any other sport. ESports athletes are athletes. All the social/emotional learning and soft skills I developed in football, wrestling, track, and rugby can be developed through esports. When I was chasing athletic scholarships for college, no one told me my it was a dumb idea. My family, teachers, and coaches did everything they could to help me get an athletic scholarship. Just like we don’t scoff at helping athletes find a home at the collegiate level, we shouldn’t scoff at helping hopeful esports students find a home at the collegiate level. To do that we need to build the school-to-college esports pipeline.

Building the school-to- college pipeline is also important because it reaches a group of kids who often don’t have a home/school connection. For example, as I try to convince stakeholders in my district to let me field an Overwatch team next year, I have been polling my students. I have about 75 students, 6-8th grade, who want to be a part of our Overwatch esports team. Of those interested students, more than half have no after school connection to school. They aren’t involved in any sports or clubs. They just go home. The research is clear that involvement in extracurriculars at school lead to better student development and learning. Having an esports team is an opportunity to reach more students and let them know we value them and what they love. Esports is another way to let kids know they matter. You also better believe that we’ll be including grades and behavior expectations in the code of conduct my students write for our esports team. Being part of an esports team can motivate students to stay on the straight and narrow just like traditional sports can.