More than a game: the rise of Esports in schools
8 May 2024

Esports has grown from a niche activity to a mainstream movement, becoming increasingly structured in tertiary institutions and secondary schools. Education Matters talks to Westbourne Grammar School about how it created a dedicated Esports Studio and program on campus.

Australian teams remain underdogs in most international Esports competitions – but that could be about to change, with the growing interest in competitive gaming rippling through the education sector. The Australian Esports League, established in 2016, has a league for university students and high school students – the latter is a national league featuring students representing their high schools in competitions across a series of games including the High School Cup.

Overseeing that is the Australian Esports Association (AESA), an independent and non-profit organisation actively driving the advancement of Esports in Australia. AESA is a national member of the International Esports Federation. But it’s not just a game – Queensland University of Technology (QUT) launched Australia’s first university Esports program in 2017, providing a pathway from amateur to professional participation in all aspects of Esports.

In August 2023, University of Technology Sydney opened a gaming hub designed to help students train and compete, as well as serving as a proving ground for students pursuing careers in game development and Esports. And last year, Westbourne Grammar School, a P-12 co-educational school in Truganina, Melbourne, opened a dedicated Esports Studio on campus.

The benefits of Esports in education

Mr Gavin May has seen first-hand the excitement in secondary school students competing in Esports. He has had numerous conversations with schools and IT personnel about setting up Esports infrastructure, both in his current role as National Education Program Manager at JB Hi-Fi Education, and in previous positions. “I’ve had 20 years’ experience working in schools and with schools, providing technology solutions. There’s absolutely no doubt that children today are heavily interested in computerised gaming,” Mr May, who joined JB Hi-Fi Education in 2021, says. “Esports goes one step further. It’s more organised. Students are working on improving collaboration skills and fine motor skills, but also in that gamification of learning, it can involve role play or strategy. There’s more to it than playing shooting games.”

Mr May says Esports is also an effective way of engaging students in a controlled and inclusive manner. Competitions are drawing large crowds of players – and spectators too. “We’re seeing increased involvement of girls in Esports in schools – it’s not purely a male domain. I’ve seen tournaments where girls are super enthused and really supporting their classmates. That fosters real team engagement as well,” he says.

In addition, it creates an inclusive and engaging learning environment. For example, Minecraft: Education Edition is a game-based platform that inspires creative, inclusive learning through play. Esports is also credited with developing technical skills in IT and STEM-related subjects, including game design, computer science, programming, and data analysis. It develops soft skills including communication, leadership, problem solving and strategising. Esports’ use of immersive technologies and headsets to create virtual environments can increase students’ spatial awareness, Mr May says. “Esports improves communication and planning skills, and quick thinking, and it’s a safe space where students can learn from their mistakes. If they make a mistake when playing Esports, it’s not the end of the world – but it presents a ‘teachable moment’, to use school parlance,” he says.

Esports offers a bonafide career path. Australia’s top ranked player Anathan ‘ana’ Pham has earned more than $6,024,411 in prize money, according to Esports Earnings. “I think there are two aspects to consider in terms of a career in Esports. The first is that, yes, you can now have a career as an Esports competitor. And it can be highly lucrative,” Mr May says. “The second is that you can pursue a tertiary-level qualification in developing and creating games for Esports.” In 2017, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) became the first higher education institution to offer a degree in Esports. Since then, more institutions have followed suit, Esports Insider notes. The initiative is now flowing into secondary schools.

Digital strategy at the forefront

Catering to a community of more than 400 staff, and 2,040 students comprising over 50 nationalities spread across two campuses, Westbourne Grammar School is a place where history and tradition meet innovation. Principal Dr Adrian Camm says the 158-year-old award-winning P-12 school’s vision is ‘shaping learners who inspire the world’. “At our school, we understand that people come first and by empowering our people we encourage continuous innovation,” he says. “Leadership is more important than ever, and innovation and change is both top down and bottom up.”

In 2021, the school launched its digital strategy with the aim of positioning the school at the forefront of digital within three years. It has achieved that aim – and more – including the launch of a dedicated Esports Studio. “The digital world demands new skills, and diverse teams, that can bring design, thinking, and problem solving together with digital and creative skills,” Dr Camm says.

The launch of the school’s Esports program comes at a time when the Esports industry is experiencing rapid growth and recognition. “The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently created an Olympic Esports Series which recognises the value of video games and the importance of gaming as a legitimate sport;’ he says. “Our Esports Studio includes a progressive and brand-new gaming space equipped with high-end gaming PCs, consoles, virtual and augmented reality headsets, and specialised gaming equipment such as headsets and chairs. “It also features a dedicated team of staff who will guide students in developing their gaming skills and help them compete in local, state, and national Esports tournaments.”

These staff members, Dr Camm adds, also work closely with students to develop strategies for managing stress, building resilience, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. “Our new Esports program is designed to foster students’ passion for gaming and provide them with opportunities to develop important skills such as teamwork, strategic thinking, problem-solving, leadership, communication, creativity, and adaptability.”

The school’s Esports Studio offers students access to state-of-the-art virtual and augmented reality gaming technology as well as a range of competitive and collaborative video games. In addition, experiential learning is facilitated through driving simulators and flight simulators which provide students with skills that have real-world application. “The tools we’re using allow students to pose questions and foster a love of learning,” Dr Camm says. But gaming is not only used for leisure and enjoyment. According to Dr Camm it will also be incorporated into Westbourne’s curriculum, providing students with a unique learning experience that combines technology, gaming, and teamwork.

Partnering with JB Hi-Fi Education

Westbourne Grammar School approached JB Hi-Fi Education to serve as its PC vendor, providing the Lenovo Legion desktops and accessories for its Esports Studio. The remainder of the project, encompassing various design elements and implementation, evolved through extensive collaboration among Westbourne staff and students. Dr Camm says a collective effort has brought the school’s Esports Studio and program to its current state. “Our program draws from our school’s new teaching and learning philosophy, Inspire, which positions character and agency at the heart of our design approach,” he says. “With this in mind, we have adopted a student-centred focus in the design of our Esports Program and students take ownership and have a voice in what they learn and lead the overall direction of the program.”

Students also helped school leaders create the Esports Studio and have played a key role in its design. “They have directed staff in the type of equipment needed and the experiences they’d like to see in this space. As part of this student led approach, we have run a student mural design competition and have their illustrations presented physically on the wall,” according to Dr Camm. Video games were also used to design the space, and The Sims 4 – a life simulation game that allows players to create and design virtual spaces – was used to experiment with different layouts, colour schemes, and furniture arrangements before finalising the design.

Dr Camm says the implementation of an Esports Studio and program has been a complete success. “Our new Esports program is designed to foster students’ passion for gaming and provide them with opportunities to develop important skills such as teamwork, strategic thinking, problem-solving, leadership, communication, creativity, and adaptability,” he says. “It also offers a new platform for students to engage with peers across multiple year levels, build community, and explore new avenues for self-expression.” The Esports Studio and program is also contributing to student’s wellbeing and sense of belonging. “We’re seeing significant engagement with the Esports Studio and are finding that this is becoming another positive place in our school that promotes belonging and acceptance;’ Dr Camm says. “Students are working together across various year levels and using the Esports Studio as an opportunity to socialise, make new friends and collaborate with one another.”


Source: Education Matters Secondary

Edition: April- June 2024