Learning Strategies

Tips for Starting a High School Esports Program

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As a response to the billion-dollar (and rapidly growing) Esports industry, high schools across the country are establishing Esports programs and promoting game-based learning.

Research has shown that competitive gaming offers a host of cognitive, behavioral and social benefits to students - including improved academic performance, higher self-esteem and increased participation in class.

Establishing an Esports program doesn't have to be complicated (or budget-breaking!), but it does require a bit of forethought and planning. Here are three tips for starting a successful program from the ground up:

Learn from others

Look to established leagues or clubs for guidance. Chances are your local college has an organized Esports team and is willing to offer guidance on establishing a vision for your school's program - whether you're aiming for a casual after-school club or a serious league. (According to ncsasports.org, 175 colleges offer varsity Esports programs with partial or full-ride athletic scholarships.)

Plus, working with a local college can boost chances of recruitment for students who are serious about launching a career in Esports.

Be sure to network with Esports organizations and governing bodies to help jump-start your program as well. The North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), for example, offers access to research, Esports curricula and tournaments. A nonprofit organization, NASEF is free to join.

Similarly, the National Esports Association aims to “guide school districts, colleges, and corporations through the learning outcomes and competencies that gaming can provide” by offering access to community forums, mentorship programs and more.

Gaming groups on Discord are another great way to network and learn about the ins and outs of specific games, like Roblox or League of Legends. Many schools use Discord, a voice, video and text chat app, to network with other schools and to help students meet others interested in the same games.

Get the right equipment

Starting an Esports program doesn't have to cost a ton of money - after all, you may be able to repurpose equipment your school already owns, like shared desktops or speakers.

But you'll likely need to invest in a few basic gaming necessities, like gaming headsets, gaming mice and keyboards.

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These gaming-specific peripherals are designed to keep players competitive and comfortable. Many full-sized gaming keyboards, for example, feature memory-foam wrist pads for extended comfort, built-in media controls and raised keys with ultra-fast performance speeds.

Gaming mice feature multiple programmable buttons and powerful optical sensors that offer pinpoint precision and tracking. This allows for fast and efficient play.

If your team plans on competing in online multi-player games, you'll need to stock up durable gaming headsets. Gaming headsets allow players to listen to and communicate with teammates (or enemies) during play. Most gaming headsets are compatible with multiple devices and feature plush earcups and adjustable headbands to keep players comfortable.

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Let students take the lead

Lean on interested students to help start the program. Students can help with everything from recruitment and fundraising to tech setup. The more they're involved in creating the program, the more likely they'll feel a sense of belonging and excitement.

Students can even help determine what games to focus on and whether or not to join an established league. Joining an established league is one of the easiest ways to start competing.

The High School Esports League (HSEL), for example, is the largest and longest-operating league in North America. It organizes scrimmages and tournaments throughout the traditional school year and offers tons of support in establishing a robust Esports program, including access to gaming curriculum and grant and funding opportunities.

Many states offer organized Esports programming as well. Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, to name just a few, are all states with established leagues. To determine whether your state has an Esports league, simply Google your state name or city and the phrase “high school esports”.

Giving students an active role in establishing the program - whether it's a casual after-school club or a serious, competitive league - can provide opportunities to practice skills in leadership, organization and communication.

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