Parentology has explored how esports in high schools are coming into their own as a varsity sport. We’ve talked about esports evolving as a new career path. And then there are the teens already raking in big bucks online. Wanting to delve a bit deeper, we interviewed Mason Mullenioux, co-founder and CEO of High School Esports League (HSEL) to see why esports are growing in popularity. What he relayed: esports can be a force for good.
What Is the High School Esports League (HSEL)?
High School Esports League is the largest and longest-running competitive gaming organization serving high school students and teachers. Founded in 2013 to bridge the gap between competitive gaming and education, HSEL now works with over 1,500 partnered high schools (each is required to have a teacher sponsor and administrative approval). They aim to help students reach their fullest potential through fun, competitive gaming communities, competitions and educational opportunities.
Who are the main audiences for high school esports?
Depending on the research you look at, at least 72% of high school students play video games. Massively popular pastime among teens, competitive gaming is one of the fastest-growing categories in the market. As esports begins to mirror traditional sports at the professional level (with sold-out stadiums, huge endorsement deals, and star players), it’s only natural students will want access to the same type of scholastic play they expect from basketball or football.
Can high schools benefit from esports programs?
Educators know student engagement is the name of the game. The more effectively you can get students participating in on-campus and after-school activities, the better their attendance, academic performance, and college and career prospects.
A high school esports program is a magnet for a cohort of students who might otherwise be less engaged with school. In a recent survey we conducted of teacher sponsors, the most common reason given for sponsoring a high school esports program at their school was to provide an activity to students who otherwise might have been excluded.
Beyond the after-school program, there are ways to integrate esports into the classroom. A teacher and principal (Michael Russell and Dr. Kristy Custer, respectively) at one of our partnered schools, Complete High School Maize near Wichita, worked with us to create a fully-fledged curriculum called ‘Gaming Concepts.’ It teaches leadership, social-emotional intelligence, and college and career-ready skills through the lens of video games. We’re working on rolling that curriculum out nationwide, with more schools putting it into practice in the coming academic year.
How do esports impact students?
By channeling students’ passion for games in an organized environment with coaching and adult supervision, high school esports transforms what many parents might view as a distraction or waste of time into an incredible force for good.
Organized esports — just as with traditional sports — teaches leadership, teamwork, discipline and critical thinking. Beyond that, there’s actually a large and growing collegiate recruitment opportunity for students who play at a high level. We’ve facilitated over $15 million in scholarship money over the years as more and more colleges embrace esports.
Students who took the aforementioned Gaming Concepts course saw an average 1.5 point rise in GPA, and 10% higher attendance. That improvement in engagement and academic performance mirrors the feedback we’ve received from teachers and parents whose students participate in our competitive league.
Will high school esports change in the future?
We believe the groundswell of excitement and support for esports will continue to accelerate. More teachers and parents will recognize the opportunity to make a positive impact on kids through games, and we’ll start to see more districts and state associations begin to dip their toes in the water.
When we originally founded HSEL, our vision was to one day see local high school rivalries, varsity letters, state championships, and all of the other elements of traditional high school sports. We’re already well on our way towards that reality, and we’re incredibly excited for what the future holds for high school esports.