Fueled by large prize purses, substantial youth involvement, and steep growth curves that indicate pervasive social presence for those under 25, competitive digital games like League of Legends and Overwatch (i.e. “esports”) are capturing public attention. The Enriching Esports project aims to investigate esports in order to better understand how they can be used for education purposes. This project brings together collegiate esports leaders, academics, practitioners, and K-12 educators to coordinate efforts in developing the first school-affiliated k-12 academic esports league in the United States. We intend to leverage the league and larger esports ecosystem to bring together students who have an interest in esports, connecting them with relevant academic content and helping them to develop professional practices in order to connect their interests with academic content.
Though competitive video game play has been documented since the 1980s, esports and professional video game play have only begun to gain firm footing in the past twenty years (Taylor, 2012). Esports is conceptualized here as what has developed into a broad ecosystem of esports management: business managers, coaches, marketing experts, physical therapists, tournament organizers, and various other professionals who work to keep keep esports running smoothly. Given its widespread popularity and robust ecosystem, esports provide an opportunity to address currently underserved populations and disaffected students, opening a pathway to further educational aims broadly and to create STEM hooks in particular. Our research includes investigating and detailing the esports ecosystem, addressing questions like: Who is participating in esports? What is the impact of participating in esports on academic performance? What role should esports serve as an extra-curricular activity? How might youth enthusiasm for and participation in esports be leveraged for traditional academic goals?