This blog is by one of NASEF’s scholastic fellows, Chris Aviles. You can see the original blog post on his website and more at: http://www.techedupteacher.com/

Most schools have been closed for a month now thanks to the Coronavirus. And, as most schools look destined to be closed for the remainder of the school year, finding ways to connect with students is more important than ever. Google Meet, Flipgrid, and Zoom meetings are all ways that teachers are trying to maintain a face-to-face relationship with students, but some schools have an additional way they’re keeping up with their students: esports!

Because of its online nature, most school esports programs have been able to continue their season even after we’ve moved to remote learning. Using esports to engage and connect with students while schools are closed shouldn’t be surprising. Esports has become the athletics of remote living.

Many industries are using esports to maintain and connect with their audience while we’re all stuck at home. With the traditional sports world shut down, networks like ESPN have been showing more and more esports content as they try to fill the time slots that traditional sports used to fill. Even the sports leagues themselves have been turning to esports for content. NASCAR’s new esports league, eNASCAR, held their first event last week: the Pro Invitational iRacing Series. It was a massive success, as it drew the largest TV audience for an esports event yet. The NBA is hosting an NBA 2K Players Tournament, where NBA stars compete against each other in head-to-head matchups with the money raised going to COVID-19 relief charities. Fifa is working on a 128-team esports tournament and the NHL will be simulating the rest of their season in their video game, NHL 20, for fans. Twitch, the streaming platform where many students watch their favorite gamer has been breaking records since the stay home orders were issued. With recruiting all but halted for the military, the Navy has been using it’s esports team, Goats & Glory, to continue to attract potential recruits. In this difficult time where we have to be separate, here’s how educators, coaches, and players are using esports to be together.

The Show Goes On

Steve Isaacs calls the action as his WAMS take on James Monroe middle school in Rocket League.

For Steve Isaacs, esports coach at William Annin middle school (WAMS) in New Jersey, the COVID-19 situation presents challenges as well as opportunities for his team. From the start of the quarantine, Steve had no intention of stopping his esports activities. In a time when we are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy and provide meaningful activities for our students, Steve sees esports as a necessity.

The transition to a home-based esports team was tough at first. Steve was having a difficult time organizing his team from home and getting them the practice and match schedule. To better communicate with students, he decided to setup a Discord server for his esports team so they could continue to connect. In addition to the Discord channel, Steve created a Google Classroom for his team. Steve uses Google classroom for his classes, so it made sense for Steve to create a Google Classroom for students.

Another nice aspect of Google Classroom for Steve has been the new ability to embed a Google Meet for athletes from within Google Classroom. Steve moved his game club meetings online via Google Meet allowing the group to come together twice a week to see one another face-to-face and do some real time gaming together. Bringing his students together through Google Classroom and Discord worked better than Steve thought. Students were making matches and playing games together even outside the designated times he setup. One of his seventh grade students, Tristan, told me when he and his teammates are not doing school work, “the team is always trying to play awesome games together and get to know each other better.” Tristan went on to say Rocket League, Minecraft, and Fortnite are the most popular games to play among him and his classmates.

One of the tournaments Steve’s team entered from home was a competitive Minecraft tournament. The primary game in competitive Minecraft is called Capture the Wool and it plays like a typical capture the flag game. Teams of 5 work together to attack the opponents base and return to their base with the flag while defending their base at the same time. Players find materials and weapons to use in the match. It’s a fast paced and exciting game that definitely brings Minecraft right into the esports arena. With a little guidance from Steve, his students formed a team, registered, and continue to compete on a regular basis in Minecraft tournaments. Another marquee match up for Steve’s esports team was a Rocket League double header against James Monroe middle school and Eisenhower middle school both of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The event was organized by the students from home.

Esports For Everyone

Another educator using esports to connect not just with his esports team, but his entire community is Instructional Coach and NASEF fellow JD Williams from Laveen elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona. In the fall of 2019, JD started an esports club at Laveen with fifth to eighth grade students playing Rocket League after school, twice a week. When JD’s school closed for the rest of the school year at the end of March because of COVID 19, he wanted to find a way to continue to engage not just his esports athletes, but his entire community through online games. JD started hosting and streaming Community Game Nights in April and has continued them throughout Arizona’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected executive order.

JD started small with a few trail runs of Rocket League tournaments with his esports team and school staff members. Rocket League has built in tournaments which allows JD to spectate and shoutcast his team’s games. After the test tournaments were successful, JD advertised a game night through his school Facebook Page, middle school Google Classrooms, and even invited students and staff from another school that had a middle school esports club to play in the competition. The number of players participating in the weekly tournaments has grown every week!

Even though the Rocket League tournaments were engaging some of his students, JD felt he was still not giving as many students the opportunity to participate as he could because Rocket League is a game that needs to be purchased. JD wanted to find a free-to-play title that any student with a video game system and Internet access could play. After talking with his esports team, coaches, and his school principal, he settled on a title you may have heard of: Fortnite.

Fortnite has been a game most schools hesitate to engage students through. JD had some concerns about students playing Fortnite because it is a third-person shooter with an ESRB rating of T for Teen. JD made sure that he communicated with parents about Fortnite’s ESRB rating and how to decide if a game is appropriate for their child.

Another issue with Fortnite was getting all of the students into the same game at the same time. Luckily, JD was accepted into the Epic Support-A-Creator Program which allows for custom Fortnite matches that students could join with a match code. In his first Fortnite event, JD had over 40 students join the match from home. Friday Night Fortnite is a huge hit for JD’s community and it gets bigger every week.

JD’s weekly community game nights have allowed JD and his fellow teachers who joined him to continue to give their students and community a connection to their school that wouldn’t be possible without online gaming and esports. JD’s seventh grade student Nicholas, said “esports is different from all of the other school sport activities. I’ve gotten better at the games and am able to socialize without going out somewhere. I like the amount of social interaction and it is easier to make friends than I thought.”

Esports and Libraries

Classroom teachers aren’t the only ones harnessing esports as a way to keep kids connected. COVID-19 shut down many libraries within the US, and the Cherokee Public Library in Iowa was no exception. After the Governor halted the school year for students in mid-March, libraries in Iowa also started to transition from serving patrons inside the library to a curbside and digital model of providing access to materials and enrichment. For the Cherokee Public Library’s esports coach and librarian, Tyler Hahn, this was an opportunity to re-imagine how esports could engage a community.

Tyler Hahn Oversees A Smash Tournament In His Library

With COVID-19 and the inability to physically meet with his esports team, called Kee+Control, in the library, Tyler (another NASEF Fellow) pivoted to engaging his esports team not only through online matches from home, but also through bonus objectives — weekly esports challenges for his team and anyone else in the community to take on. Each week, Tyler posts a different bonus objective on social media, the team Discord chat, and on public access television to reach a wide swath of the community.

Participants can send or tag the library with their completed project. The winning project each week is featured and offered a small prize. Each project can be completed with either a tech or no/low tech option in order to be fair to those in the community who do not have access to data to the internet while at home. Some weekly challenges have been as simple as drawing or creating characters inspired by favorite video games, while others have been to create 3D models or objects out of household materials. From a STEM perspective, esports team members were also given the challenge to figure out data on win/loss percentages, average match times per map, as well as calculating probability of team members’ victory chances against one another. Tyler’s esports athletes also contributed by voting on which bonus objective submissions they like the best. By engaging members of the community through esports, Tyler hopes when the library is open again patrons will be excited to learn more about esports.

Summer esports sessions will look different at the Cherokee Public Library. Typically, esports programming was popular at the library during the summer given that there is little to do academically in rural northwestern Iowa that is free for youth and based on their interests. Because of the pandemic, the library’s summer esports season will pivot to playing from home and the library will host the streams on their social media channels. Tyler also plans to encourage team members to organize their own tournaments.

Finally, a bigger project which the library is undertaking is organizing a drive-in gaming tournament where consoles will be connected to projectors. From there, families would pull their cars into parking spaces near the screen and have a chance to compete against one another while cars in queue to play can officiate and cheer on the cars in front of them. Something similar has been done at Pottsboro Public Library in Texas, and this sort of programming has the ability to allow for families as well as communities to come together and get out of the house while enjoying gaming and staying a safe distance apart.

Whether it is keeping the esports season going even while students and teachers are home, engaging staff and students in weekly video game tournaments, or pivoting your institution to better serve the community by offering unique esports events, it is clear that esports is the athletics of remote learning. The Coronavirus is going to have lasting effects on our lives, I hope one of those lasting effects is the understanding that whether we’re in school or learning from a distance, every school and community deserve an esports team.

If you’re looking to learn more about esports and how you can bring it to your school or community, make sure to check out NASEF to get started!

Until Next Time,

GLHF

NASEF uses scholastic esports to help students enhance their education & skills for future careers!