From March 8th through the 17th, the city of Austin, Texas hosted South by Southwest (SXSW), a massive conference over a week long which celebrates “the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries.” Journalists and industry professionals from various fields and companies converged in the Austin Convention Center to promote ideas, technology, new media, films, games, and everything in between. Even UCI Esports got in on the action — on March 16th, Mark Deppe and Constance Steinkuehler hosted the panel, “How High School Esports Lead to Thriving Industry.”
Deppe is the director of UCI Esports and the commissioner of the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), an organization dedicated to promoting esports in public high schools across the continent. Steinkuehler is currently an Informatics professor at UCI and has a varied history of gaming and esports research under her belt. Her expertise ranges from advising the White House on gaming-related policy from 2011-2012 as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to her current mixed-methods research with NASEF. (Returning readers will remember Alice Lee’s article on Maria J. Anderson-Coto, a grad student who works with Steinkuehler at the UCI Esports Lab on games research.)
Deppe and Steinkuehler’s panel centered on preparing high school students for the esports industry, not only as players but in other roles such as analysts, journalists, game developers, engineers, and so on. The success of the UCI Esports collegiate team was used as a model for how these high school esports organizations could function and help prepare young students for roles in esports that suit their interests. Since esports teams and the events they partake in are not solely run by players, the goal of the scholastic esports pipeline should be to prepare students to take on crucial roles that interest them. One slide of the presentation highlighted this clearly by analyzing the reality of physical sports such as hockey — even though there are only twenty players on the ice at an Anaheim Ducks game, there are a thousand different employees working at the venue in some capacity to make sure game day runs smoothly.
Beyond preparing students for roles in the esports industry, the panel also discussed how games function as learning tools. The second segment of the presentation focused on the various ways games develop students’ cognitive ability: by improving their visual acuity, increasing their problem solving skills, accelerating their literacy and language learning, and more. Steinkuehler and Deppe furthered the connection between esports and student learning by arguing that high school sports have been shown to aid students in their pursuit of education, as participation in sports is often associated with higher GPAs and higher degree completion. Likewise, the benefits of esports on a high school campus would be plentiful, as students would participate in an environment that stimulates their cognitive abilities while also encouraging the same attitudes as physical sports.
The third part of the presentation explored NASEF and its mission to support high school clubs and esports organizations in order to foster the aforementioned learning environments and encourage students interested in the industry. The panel went in-depth into the NASEF state-approved high school curriculum, designed to connect students to STEM, humanities and language, career pathways, social and emotional learning, and school affiliation. NASEF’s model achieves this by providing a network of mentors (teacher GMs, online coaches, industry and higher education pros) providing camps for underrepresented groups and clubs (such as UCI Esports’ own summer camps) and allowing events to be run by both coaches and students.
Deppe and Steinkuehler’s talk at SXSW discussed the importance of high school and collegiate esports organizations and how UCI Esports and NASEF could serve as a model for these new groups. UCI Esports offers dozens of student jobs and prepares both these students and their scholarship players for careers in esports and the broader games industry. Esports teams and related clubs on campus also foster a greater connection between the student and their school, and games can be employed as a creative learning tool. NASEF’s mission statement is “to provide opportunities for ALL students to use esports as a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life.” By supporting groups on high school campuses, NASEF hopes to encourage students interested in esports as the industry continues to soar towards greater heights.
Photos courtesy Kathy Chiang, Mark Deppe