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An Introduction to Academic Esports: Gaming as a Gateway

January 9, 2024

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Written by Alan Sitomer

I’ll never forget the first time as a high school teacher I had a student in my class who was wearing a bulky, black ankle bracelet as mandated by the courts. To some of our nation’s kids, our schools feel like a metaphorical prison; to other young scholars, there’s a lot less metaphor.

But this kid - like ALL kids - have a constitutional right to education. And as this student’s teacher, I believe I have a constitutional mandate to give my best effort to actually teach the kids, no matter what kids the Universe sits down at the desks in front of me. Yet, how in the world is a classroom educator supposed to get a young learner shackled with an ankle monitor to give two hot damns about anything academic whatsoever?

The answer was not only simple, it was singular: use what they were already passionate about as a gateway to their learning.

This “theory” ultimately led me to being named California’s Teacher of the Year. Why? Because I milked that sucker dry! I used hip-hop in the class, I used traditional sports in the class, I even taught kids how to insult one another using bawdy Shaekespearean licentious language as a vehicle for disarming students of their fear to tackle sonnets.

And right now I am shouting from the top of any rooftop I can climb that using esports and video games as a gateway to learning is one heckuva pedagogical strategy to reach meaningful academic aims.

Kids love video games. And when I say love, I mean LOVE.

  • 92% of teenagers play some type of video game
  • As an industry, video games generate more global revenue than Hollywood and the music industry combined
  • Esports is the fastest growing sport across the K-12 landscape

On no uncertain terms, using video games as a gateway to education offers several compelling advantages:

  • Engagement and Motivation: Video games are inherently engaging and motivate players to learn and progress within the game. This engagement can be harnessed to make learning more enjoyable and compelling, thus increasing student motivation and participation in educational activities.
  • Active Learning: Video games often require active problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making, which are valuable skills in education. Students actively engage with the content rather than passively receiving information, leading to better retention and understanding.
  • Personalized Learning: Many video games adapt to the player's skill level and provide personalized challenges. This adaptability can be applied in education to cater to individual student needs, ensuring that each student progresses at their own pace.
  • Immediate Feedback: Video games offer instant feedback on performance, allowing players to learn from their mistakes and improve. In an educational context, this immediate feedback can help students identify areas where they need improvement and adjust their learning strategies accordingly.
  • Collaboration and Social Skills: Multiplayer and cooperative video games encourage teamwork, communication, and collaboration. These social skills are essential in both education and the modern workforce.
  • Skill Transfer: Many skills developed in video games, such as problem-solving, time management, and strategic thinking, are transferable to real-world scenarios. These skills are highly valuable for academic success and future career readiness.
  • Access to Diverse Content: Educational games can cover a wide range of subjects, from mathematics and science to history and languages. This diversity allows educators to incorporate games into various parts of the curriculum, making learning more engaging and relevant.
  • Addressing Learning Styles: Different students have different learning styles. Video games can cater to visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and other learning preferences, making education more inclusive.
  • 21st Century Skills: In a world increasingly shaped by technology, students need to develop 21st-century skills, such as digital literacy and adaptability. Video games naturally expose students to technology and can help them acquire these skills.

Yes,, incorporating video games into education requires thoughtful integration and alignment with learning objectives, but when done effectively, it can make learning more engaging, relevant, and effective, preparing students for success in an increasingly digital and dynamic world.

I don’t just deeply believe in the idea of gaming as a gateway, I put my life savings into starting a company (actually, it’s now two companies: Mastery Coding and The United States Academic Esports League) that channel students’ passion for gaming into career and college readiness.

Check them out. Or hit me up. Or leave a comment. The world has changed and education must change with it.

GLHF (Good Luck, Have Fun!)


Alan Sitomer

Alan is Mastery Coding's CEO and a California Teacher of the year award winner who has written 22 books. He left the classroom and started this company because he sees the opportunity for students to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through obtaining jobs in emerging technologies.

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