By Jill Yarberry-Laybourn
Got 20 minutes? How about escaping to magical lands, searching virtually for treasure, or going on a wild car ride through a soccer pitch? All of these are fantastical and fun ways to spend one’s free time. For that reason and a million others, children and adults across the globe are enchanted with video games. Shenandoah University’s Joey Gawrysiak Ph. D., Esports Program Director and Curriculum Developer and Christopher Scroggins, Esports Instructor and esports curriculum creator agree. “Video game participation is growing at a rate we haven’t seen with any other activity in the world before except, maybe breathing and eating. It’s widespread across other countries and continues to grow,” Gawrysiak told BYJU’S FutureSchool.
According to a 2018 U.S. Pew Research Center report, 97% of teen boys and 83% of teen girls play video games while the average player is between 18 and 34 years old, and an estimated 2.7 billion gamers participate worldwide. And video gaming isn’t only a fun pastime, it is a big-time competitive sports industry worth a lot of money. “The esports industry’s 2019 revenue of $1.9 billion is expected to balloon to around $2.9 billion by 2025,” Geek Insider reports.
Anything that is that popular has to have something going for it. Video game developers use psychology—competition, a steady increase of difficulty plus rewards, the ability to escape the “real world”, and social connectivity—to encourage players to play and play and play. Dr. Joey Gawrysiak says this has led to a misconception of “kids by themselves, not interacting with anybody, being unhealthy. You know the mantra, drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheetos, down in their parents’ basement. We are trying to break down that stigma. That is not what esports, gaming actually is. They are so much more than that. The benefits far outweigh the costs.”
Esports Done Right
Video games and esports, as well as coding and other forms of digital entertainment and technology creation, can have many benefits for children. The reality is that when done right, like any sport or activity, it is great for children and teens. Scroggins and Gawrysiak agree; it comes down to “all things in moderation” and:
- the presence of solid and clear boundaries
- healthy gaming practices
- parents who are informed
- parents who are engaged
- parents who act as the gatekeepers to a child’s esports participation
What Is Esports and Its Benefits?
Dr. Gawrysiak points out, esports is a great platform for providing children and young adults the skills they need to be successful in the future. Why? Because they love it. “Give that (passion) structure and use it as an educational opportunity to teach kids. We get the stigma that is out there. A lot of people just don’t know what esports is, what gaming is, and how it can serve and benefit children and adolescents. Esports can teach so much more than video games. There is connectivity to it.”
“They (gaming and esports) teach skills that people are looking for that are really valuable across different industries that you can learn by competing and playing video games like competition, communication, teamwork, sportsmanship, adaptability. These are things we have traditionally taught our kids in America through Pee Wee Football or Little League Baseball. These are those character-building ideas being taught through a different lens. We are teaching them the skills that will go far beyond competition and playing video games,” adds Gawrysiak.
|Esports Can Give Everyone a “Place”Unlike most sports, according to Dr. Gawrysiak, a player “doesn’t have to win the genetic lottery” to become a great player. Gamers and esports team members come in all shapes and sizes. Likewise, the sport is equally available to both boys and girls, and they can be on the same team working together. Also, Gawrysiak points out, “…it provides kids with a platform and a community that is something bigger than themselves, and a lot of times, traditional gamers don’t have that (place, that group) in college, high school or middle school… They may not be football players… …but for a lot of kids this is their chance to be part of something bigger than themselves at their educational institution, and it is headed up by someone–a teacher, staff… a coach… that works with them so they can get more out of it (video games).”
The Real-Deal With esports
A lot of people (parents included) think gaming is an isolated, unhealthy experience. “We have set it up [gaming] in a way to show them [college esports participants] where the benefits are, physically, mentally, and cognitively,” Scroggins shares. Check just a few of them out:
- Excellent fine motor skills
- Great hand-eye coordination
- Seriously fast reaction time
“We have seen companies that operate cranes and other things that utilize toggles or controllers that have reached out to see if our students would be interested in careers or internships after esports because they understand that the fine motor skills and manual dexterity of our students are going to be far greater than someone who hasn’t operated a keyboard or a controller over time.” Scroggins adds, “I type 20 times faster than my parents because I game. Our head coach types 130 words per minute.”
21st Century careers
According to Dr. Gawrysiak, “A lot of kids who like video games often enjoy STEM-related content, and esports becomes a platform in which to get into a lot of those fields. It leads to possible employment or studying (STEM fields) in education.” For example:
- Computer science
- Information technology
- Mechanical engineering
- Ability to handle high levels of stress: “Gamers often learn to manage the same levels of cortisol as NASCAR drivers,” making them better equipped to hand other stressors in productive ways.
- Mentor/Mentee relationships: Esports is another avenue in which students can bond with adults and develop social-emotional skills and wellness with the help of knowledgeable and caring coaches and leaders. From a study of high school esports and its benefits, one researcher observed, “Teacher GMs and coaches appear to play a key role in modeling behavior and fostering environments in which students learned to focus on improving their social, communication, and analytical skills.”
- Student leaderships: In the same study, esports has proved to be a great avenue for developing student leadership opportunities that contribute not only to the social-emotional wellness of the leader but also the student mentees.
- Decision-making abilities: “We are starting to see the use of action video games being used to train people to make more accurate decisions faster. In the medical field and first responders, if you are rushing into a building that is on fire, you only have seconds to decide what to do. …but it is working and making those parts of your brain more powerful and normalizing these rapid decisions more consistently,” explains Scroggins.
- Mental agility: This is another cognitive benefit mentioned by Scroggins and Gawrysiak. It’s the ability to respond and adapt to events in a mobile way and to move forward with a different idea.
- Motivation: Gaming instills motivation to set goals and work hard to achieve them.
- Processing speed: Participants of esports have to process huge amounts of information at lightning speed. Most of us can’t do that!
- Executive function: It is a set of mental skills that include adaptable thinking, self-control, and a solid memory.
- Digital citizenship: One can’t deny that there is cyber-bullying and harassment that takes place in most forms of interactive social/digital entertainment. While a definite drawback, “it can be a wonderful tool for teaching children digital citizenship.” Dr. Gawrysiak points out.
- Communication skills: Esports forces team players to communicate in clear and concise ways. They also have to learn how to communicate in ways that maximize the gameplay of their teammates.
The key to the benefits of esports is moderation and healthy habits
Like anything, moderation is the key. Gawrysiak and Scroggins agree that, as with all sports, it’s important to follow a disciplined, balanced training routine in order to perform at a higher level as well as to stay healthy while practicing the sport you love. It’s important to them that their student-athletes at Shenandoah University understand and practice other dimensions of wellness including: mental, financial, physical, environmental—which are essential to healthy gaming and a healthy life.
Esports is becoming a household “thing,” and with all these benefits, it seems silly not to encourage our children to maximize their potential. With the right parameters in place, children and adolescents can learn a number of beneficial and timeless skills while doing something they love. It’s a win/win.
About the contributors
This parent’s guide was created with the research, experiences, and insight of esports experts Dr. Joey Gawrysiak Esports Program Director/Esports Curriculum Director, and Christopher Scroggins Esports Instructor/Esports Curriculum Developer at Shenandoah University.
About the author
A writer, teacher, and most importantly, a mom, Jill loves to research and write about topics that are important and provide opportunities for growth for herself and her readers. A journalist at heart, she greatly enjoys interviewing and learning from others and sharing it with an audience. She is an avid nature-lover and spends as much time outdoors as possible trail-riding, paddle-boarding, hiking, and taking photos along the way.