James O'Hagan on episode 310 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Esports are coming to state high school athletic competitions, college sports, and intramurals now. Today, esports pioneer James O’Hagan explains the phenomenon and how Gamer-Scholars are emerging as successful examples of a new sport.
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James O’Hagan: 5 Reasons to Bring ESports to your School
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e310
Date: May 11, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking with my friend, James O’Hagan, about five reasons to bring esports to your school. He’s an educator in Wisconsin.
Recently, James, you and your esports program have been in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and you’ve even had a kid who’s gotten a scholarship for esports.
Now, a lot of our listeners may not know what esports are. So explain. What are esports?
What are esports?
James: Sure, Vicki. Very simply, esports is the practice of competitive video game play.
So, there’s the idea of, you know, people play games and play video games. And what we’re doing is actually formalizing that into actual competition where teams are formed and kids play video games against other kids, usually at other schools, or even across the world.
Vicki: Well, we know that, you know, isolation can be a problem for some kids.
Traditionally, in the stereotypical video gaming, so this is really moving past that.
Today we are going to talk about five reasons to consider esports for your school.
So, does one of your reasons have to do with socialization, and could you give it to us?
James: So, one of the big, big reasons why you would want to do it, if we’re going to talk about socialization, is that esports actually helps to promote physical and mental health.
Esports actually helps to promote physical and mental health
So a lot of kids who would identify as gamers — and this what I have heard from parents and teachers too they worry about — is they tend to go into their rooms when they get home, lock the doors, and then not connect with anybody except for those in their virtual gaming worlds.
And what we’re doing is actually saying, “Let’s take the interests of the child, and let’s repackage that in a way where we can say, ‘Let’s play a game all together’ so that there’s socialization there. They are actually going to form a team, they’re actually going to form relationships with other people in the physical sense, as well as the virtual sense.
And then we’re going to say too, “Hey, in order to be a really good gamer, you can’t just sit there and eat Cheetos and drink Red Bull all afternoon. We have to incorporate some kind of weight training, some kind of yoga breathing, and some kind of aerobic activity to best prepare your brain for these games.”
Vicki: So you actually have a team that does well at your school, right? What are some of the esports that they play?
James: So esports, think of that as the big umbrella term. So when we think of sports, you go under that umbrella and you’ll think baseball, basketball, football, for example.
Under esports, the game names are a little different. So you’ll have a game called League of Legends, which is one of the most popular esports games in the world.
You’ll have a game like Rocket League, which is another popular game across the world. It’s two teams of rocket cars hitting a soccer ball back and forth.
There’s a game called Hearthstone, which is very much kind of like Pokémon, so using electronic cards and strategy in those sense.
So those are some of the more popular games that people play in schools.
Vicki: Awesome. Okay, so what’s our second reason for considering esports in our school?
James: Sure, esports also allows us to redefine our athletic culture.
Esports also allows us to redefine our athletic culture
So recently the big high school, National Federation of State High School Associations
which is like an organization for the athletic departments across the United States, said, “Hey, it’s time for us to start recognizing esports as something you need to incorporate at a statewide level into your high school athletic programs and recognize this as athletics.”
And what this is doing is, again, drawing in students who we would never draw in before, necessarily into athletics or activities, even.
Statistically speaking, there is about fifteen million students in the United States, three million of those students don’t actively participate in anything in their schools.
So what we’re going to say then, is let’s give them another opportunity, another reason, to get engaged in school.
When we redefine the athletic culture in that sense, and say, “Yes, let’s bring in gamers,” now those are the kids who, sometimes, like you said, would not identify with school activities or school culture and now they’re going to be more likely to attend all their classes, and have a GPA of 3.0, and be better readers and better mathematicians.
So, redefining our athletic culture, now you’re creating what’s called a scholar-gamer. And I prefer that term, really, over a esports athlete, that’s a term I used to use. But when you think about a scholar-gamer, it’s now somebody who’s not just playing a game because the game is just the medium into something more.
The game now becomes a pathway for students to, again, connect socially, but also begin to connect into the other things that are necessary to run a quality esports program, such as…
We want to be able to have our students broadcast the matches to the world on a platform such as Twitch, which is a video streaming platform owned by Amazon, but is a popular gaming platform.
We want them also to connect by creating the shirts, the jerseys, that they wear while playing their sports. It also allows them to really diversify their opportunities beyond just playing the game. I’m a terrible gamer, Vicki–
Vicki: (laughs) Me too!
James: I’m the person you DON’T want on the team. But I’m the guy who will say, and go to bat for these kids and say, “This is important, and it’s not just about the games.” So we’re redefining that athletic culture in our schools. That’s the second of our five.
Vicki: Yeah, and in some ways it’s almost a third, because I love this concept of a scholar-gamer and understanding that this is, this is just so much more. Okay, I’m excited to get our third.
James: Yeah, so kind of building off of what we just said, so yeah, diversifying opportunities for student participation.
Esports diversifies opportunities for student participation
It’s not, again, the games are just the medium to get them into other things. So by diversifying our student opportunities for participation, you’re again knocking down that barrier that may keep a child from wanting to be part of a team or sport or activity in their school, and hopefully then that connects them into the school in ways that raises our overall academic standing.
Vicki: That’s incredible. What’s our fourth?
James: So the other big one, and this kind of goes too, about creating a diverse opportunity, is increasing collegiate scholarship pathways.
Esports increases collegiate scholarship pathways
Three years ago, Vicki, when we did this podcast before when we talked about esports, there was one school in the United States that started offering a scholarship and that was Robert Morris University in Chicago.
And, in fact, one of our students here in Racine, Wisconsin from Racine Unified School District just earned a $6,000 a year scholarship to play esports — to play League of Legends — at Robert Morris University right down the road from us.
And that connection came from a tournament that the school participated in, down in Chicago. Conversations were had, and the child was then pursued to be an esports athlete with this team. If we didn’t have that team, that opportunity wouldn’t have existed for any of our students.
So nowadays, Vicki, you’re going to be surprised to hear this, we’ve gone in three years from having one school that offers a scholarship to 69 schools as of today offering scholarships for students. On an average, scholarship amounts of $7,000 a year.
In fact, the University of California-Berkeley just announced the other day that they’re setting up an intramural program for esports at Berkeley. There’s going to be possible scholarship opportunities for $1,500. Just for intramurals, for kids, too.
So there’s a ton of opportunity and what these schools have figured out is these are students that they may not attract in the past.
So Robert Morris University is not a very big school in the State of Illinois and in Chicago. There are a lot of opportunities and choices there. They really needed something to diversify and bring in these students that they weren’t getting before.
Because these kids are going to be AP- and IP-focused, going to have higher GPAs, going to have interest in STEM-related fields. That’s what the data shows us.
So this collegiate scholarship pathway is very important — not just for the students –but it’s also important for colleges to embrace. And they really have.
Vicki: So you’re telling me the data says if you want to attract more people in the STEM fields, that esports is a highway to pump them into your university or your school?
James: Correct, and, in fact, I don’t want to downplay the importance of these scholarships because, you know, $6,000 a year, for some people they will say, “Well, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of money. It’s not a full ride.”
And that’s true, it’s not, but it’s something that can sway a decision. The University of California at Irvine, their scholarship is $15,000 a year.
Vicki: Wow. What’s our fifth? These are some powerful reasons, here.
James: Vicki, one of the things that I am a big proponent of, and this comes from my days of being an elementary school teacher, I think it’s more important at the high school.
Playing games is so important as a part of school, even in high school
This is playing games. This is so important. We have become schools that are so focused on the academic needs of our kids to raise test scores and try to prepare them for college and career-ready, and they’re just comes a point where we have to let them not forget the importance of play.
And this is taking play, that kids are loving to do already, they’re already engaging it, and saying, “Let’s make play part of school again, especially at the high school level.”
Vicki: Wow, you’re blowing my mind. You did when we talked three years ago, but it really seems like esports are really taking off, aren’t they?
James: Yeah, and the great thing about all this really is, Vicki, is that a lot of schools can get started today.
We’ve already made the investments in a lot of ways, with internet access to our schools. We already have the computers that we need.
And a game like League of Legends, which is completely free for anybody to download across the world, is five on five live action chess and is something that is very easy to get started with. It’s the most popular esports game in the United States.
And I will say, though, that if you focus on just the game and just starting, you just say “I want to have esports just so my kids can play games,” you’re missing out on a much bigger opportunity if you don’t realize it already.
Vicki: It sounds like it, and let me just ask out of curiosity, is this attracting men and women equally, or what kind of mix are we seeing with diversity?
We need to address the inherent issues of diversity in esports
James: Unfortunately, Vicki, there have been some glaring problems with the diversity and that’s something that I’m starting to focus on personally.
So what there has been, there has been recent research that was done that showed most of the people who are coming into esports games are white males or Asian males.
Because the market is so PC-driven not console — when I say console, I mean like an Xbox or a PlayStation — those tend to lean towards Latino or African American kids versus PC games which are more towards Asian and white kids.
And so there’s definitely some racial divides that we need to address when we’re talking about our esports teams, and we can’t ignore that.
We also should definitely not ignore our women in this field as well, too, because these teams, as we set them up, are meant to be gender-neutral. So I have seen some very good female gamers just as I’ve seen some very good African American and Latino gamers.
But I don’t feel we’re really doing enough to draw them in because this is an industry that by the year 2020 that is going to grow to be a $1.5 billion industry across the world. And as I said, the gaming is really nice, but what is important, is all other things become possible through this.
I have a contact, a friend that works at Twitch, and a lot of these kids who are getting jobs at places like Riot Games, Blizzard Games, all the ancillary businesses, they’re getting their start by playing these games but making these connections at colleges and universities and businesses through tournaments — and then getting picked up out of high school or even college these jobs at these game companies.
And as I said, as this industry is growing, we’ve got to have open doors for everybody to get into it.
Vicki: And I love the concept that you said, I’ll say it again, the “scholar-gamer.”
It’s more than just gaming.
This is an approach for reaching those interested in STEM, for helping people to get connected, for socialization, for even good health.
I mean, there are just so many reasons to consider. I mean, we live in the modern world, and yes, we want people to get out there and play sports! I do too, but there are lots of us who have different skill sets than others.
So I think this is fascinating. Do take a look at the Shownotes and follow James O’Hagan. He’s really been a pioneer in esports for quite some time, and it’s really taking off.
James, I’m excited for you to start getting the notice like you have in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and to really be addressing some of these issues as esports tends to grow.
I do think that it’s just in its infancy, and it’s really going to do so much in the next three to five years.
James: Yeah, and if people do want more information, I’ve started my own podcast, not to compete with yours, Vicki, but…
Vicki: Of course not! Don’t even mention it. We’re a podcast family!
James: Sure, yes, so your listeners can look up Apple Podcasts, or on Soundcloud, The Academy of esports podcast, and they could go to my website, it’s taoesports.com. They can get the podcast there too.
Vicki: Cool! And we will put it that in the Shownotes. Thank you, James!
James: Alright, thank you Vicki.
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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford email@example.com
Bio as submitted
Esports allows schools to redefine their athletic culture, diversify opportunities for student participation, promote physical and mental health, and increase collegiate scholarship pathways.
And play games!
We cannot forget the importance of play!
James supports these ideals. It is his vision for all students to experience the fun and joy of playing competitive video games.
James currently is a doctoral candidate at Northern Illinois University in the field of Instructional Technology, the Director of Digital & Virtual Learning for the Racine Unified School District, the Board President for the Racine Public Library, and founder of The Academy of Esports.
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