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It’s time to rethink your views on esports in FE

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From mainstream scepticism to college courses and a place in the Olympics: it’s time to rethink your views on esports in education – says Paul McKean, director of FE and skills at Jisc

Most people’s response to esports seems to be, “What?”   

When it’s mentioned in connection with education, the usual question is, “Why?”   

And when it comes to including esports in the next Olympics, frankly, the most common reaction is disbelief. 

It’s a divisive topic, but one thing is certain: esports is here to stay.  It’s big, and it’s getting bigger.  

Which is why it’s a major theme of Jisc’s 50th annual Networkshop event (8-10 June) at Nottingham Trent University’s new ConfettiX esports venue.

What is esports?

Basically, it’s competitive, organised, multi-player video gaming. Competitors from different leagues or teams face off in the same games popular with at-home gamers – Fortnite, League of Legends, Call of Duty, Overwatch and Valorant, for example – for prizes worth millions of dollars.   

These gamers are watched and followed by millions of fans all over the world who tune in on TV and online, or attend live-streamed events in person.   

How fast is it growing?

The global esports market surpassed the $1billion mark in 2021, an almost 50 percent increase from the previous year.  More than 500 million people watch esports around the world and viewership of top-tier games frequently outstrips that of physical sports. The Sangam Stadium in Seoul, for example, is a purpose-built 66,700-seat arena dedicated to esports. 

Here in the UK, Wembley Stadium is already being used to host esports events with some 12,000 attendees, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College will open their own dedicated 5,000-seat esports arena in Bristol in 2023, and Abertay University will be launching a 4,000-seat arena at the Dundee Waterside in 2024. 

The 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham will feature esports competitions as a pilot ahead of being a potential full medal event for 2026. At the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, later this year, esports will feature in the main competition with 24 medals up for grabs.     

The likelihood is that one day we will see esports in the Olympics, alongside curling and the triple jump. 

All of which demonstrates how esports is inching closer to mainstream acceptance and shaping up to be the world’s biggest sport.  

What does Jisc have to do with esports?

As the provider of Janet, one of the world’s most powerful networks, Jisc helps HE and FE institutions across the UK capitalise on the opportunities offered by esports.  With high bandwidth, low latency and built-in security, Janet enables IT managers to handle the increased network traffic caused by students participating in esports – both inside and outside the curriculum. 

IT teams at universities and colleges who are thinking about provisioning for the future should take advantage of Jisc’s expertise to ensure they are prepared for the effects of esports on their network.

What place does esports have in education?

Sitting at the intersection between technology, sports, entertainment and education, esports can act as a gateway to develop skills relevant for a wide range of careers and pathways.  Already it is creating new job opportunities for graduates – not as players but as game designers, commentators, referees, coaches, recruiters, product managers and event managers, all of which are crucial to the industry. 

Esports degrees are offered at more than 20 UK universities currently, and the esports BTEC qualification is now being taught at more than 70 institutions, a huge jump from 15 in 2020, the qualification’s inaugural year.  Universities and colleges around the UK are building their own esports hubs and on-campus arena facilities to support the esports courses they offer, and to host various events related to competitive video gaming.   

One of these is the Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, part of Nottingham Trent University, which offers a BSc (Hons) degree in esports production.  Opening in August, ready for the new graduate intake, the ConfettiX complex is a space where students can access the very best facilities and technology for esports production and other emerging technologies.  A 4,000 sq ft multi-event esports venue and content studio, ConfettiX  offers a professional-standard studio facility designed for live transmission of multi-input competitive gaming tournaments with space for 100 audience members.  

Although ConfettiX will not open for students until term starts, you can see and experience it for yourself when Jisc holds its 50th Networkshop event there from June 8 to 10, 2022. 

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