Researching the Impacts of Esports Programs for Youth

Esports, or competitive video games, are a rapidly growing pastime for young people around the world. The opportunities presented to use esports to enhance education have not gone unnoticed and there is now a proliferation of esports programs in both middle and high schools in the US and, increasingly, abroad. But past experience has shown that merely grafting educational intentions to the interests of kids is rarely sufficient to generate positive learning outcomes. A Connected Learning approach (Ito et al, 2013) argues that learning is most powerful when student interest is connected to peers and mentors, on the one hand, and academic achievement, career success or civic engagement, on the other.

In this project, we investigate the design and outcomes of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), a competitive esports league co-designed in 2017 with our partners at the Samueli Foundation and Orange County Department of Education and now serving more than 6500 students in nearly 700 clubs across 44 states and 12 provinces in Canada. The goal of NASEF is to leverage students’ interest in esports to engage them in academic content and pro-social skills, particularly among underserved youth, by focusing not merely on competitive team play but also on the diverse support activities that grassroots and professional communities engage in.

Our role is to understand the impacts of participation, for whom and in what context. We take a mixed method approach, leveraging both qualitative (field site studies, individual long form and focus group interviews) and quantitative (survey, game data analysis) approaches to understand what students gain from this enriched esports model and then how to amplify the benefits through resources and design.