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Q&A: Bay of Plenty school shares how it's using e-sports to enrich education

Posted in Articles on 11/3/2020

Te Puke High School esports tournament

E-sports have risen in popularity over the years, and have started to acquire more of the trappings of traditional professional sports as the industry matures.

Schools in New Zealand are recognising the opportunities in e-sports and some have even incorporated them into the curriculum to give students exposure to the platform and environment created by e-sports.

Te Puke High School has organised its own e-sports tournament for two years in a row, incorporating it as part of the curriculum for business students. We spoke to Te Puke ICT manager Armand de Villiers about e-sports’ place in learning and development.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about e-sports and gaming?

Some schools and parents still make the link to a sport as being a physical activity rather than playing a computer game.  While playing games does not require much physical movement compared to traditional sports, it does have all the other characteristics such as high level of competitiveness, high level of skill, teamwork and communication, many hours of practising, strategic tactics etc.  At the highest levels, you have team managers, team owners, sponsors, game broadcasts, casters commenting in real-time, large venues, big crowds and very large cash prizes.

To a lesser degree, parents may see gaming as a waste of time with no real benefits.  Growing up, my dad always told me games would "rot my brain".  Yet, computer games were the portal into the IT world that kept me interested. 

Broadly speaking, the message that some schools convey to parents is that gaming is addictive and can negatively impact on a student’s ability to learn.  I’ve seen this in the form of a school emailing all parents a warning about the addictive nature of Fortnite, warning against staying up late at night playing games. Like anything in life, you have to find balance and that is up to the household to find and control, but it's unfair to place the blame on gaming.  Most leisure activities can be unhealthy if you do it for a disproportionate amount of time per day.

Why is Te Puke encouraging and enabling its students to get involved in e-sports?

One reason would be to give kids that might not always shine on the rugby field a chance to shine in front of their peers behind a computer screen.

This kid was the last left in his team of 5 and went on to win the game that erupted in cheers and high fives all round.  It was pretty awesome and something he will remember for a long time.

Another reason is to promote the actual legitimate business surrounding e-sports.  Both years that we ran the tournament, our Year 10 Business Studies students were tasked with organising the event from start to finish.

This included planning match schedules, setting up teams, marketing the event, finding sponsors for prizes, event security, decorations, lights, sound and music, technical etc.  They really took a very keen interest in organising a real-world event that turned out to be very popular at school.  Both years we had over $2000 worth of prizes to distribute, which makes for a competitive event!

I think it has also shown staff at our school who may have had a level of scepticism about the event, that there is a real positive side to this.  You hear feedback after the event about kids that are normally shy and withdrawn in class, unable to stop talking about their part of the event.

Students are required to form a team of 5, and success depends on teamwork and communication.  It's quite something to listen in to the communication within teams when they face a tough game - it's a combination of high levels of concentration with a genuine desire to win. 

What are the skills students acquire from e-sport involvement?

For competitors, teamwork and communication is definitely a big part of the skill set.  Without it, it's likely the one or two slightly better players on one team will be outmatched by the five lesser players on the opposing team. 

The first year we played Fortnite, which is quite a skilful game.  Luckily this was balanced out by Fortnite's huge popularity, so we had a lot of highly skilled competitors.

For year two, we decided on Unreal Tournament 4, a capture the flag-style game, which requires less skill and focuses more on teamwork.  This allowed us to invite Te Puke Intermediate school to compete against Te Puke High School - in which the young guns managed to come in second place overall - a great result.

How would Te Puke like to expand its involvement and offerings in e-sports going forward?

There used to be an event called XLAN hosted in Auckland once a year.  This event was run over a weekend with around 800-900 competitors and included qualifying games to World Cyber Games, had stand-up comedy shows, celebrity appearances playing on-stage with players etc.  It would be amazing to have the capacity to run events like that. More realistically, we would likely be looking to invite a neighbouring school to our next tournament alongside Te Puke Intermediate making it a three-way match.  Should be fun!

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