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Are Schools Ready for Competitive Video Gaming? By Including Girls and Downplaying First-Person Shooters, Cleveland Teacher Hopes to Chart New Course for ‘Esports’

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If a new effort takes hold, competitive video gaming could someday be much more popular in U.S. middle and high schools, perhaps as commonplace as basketball, marching band and the big spring musical.

Led in part by a former U.S. Education Department official who is now in the classroom, the undertaking could also expand both the size and diversity of the “esports” player and spectator base — a group that, in the United States at least, remains mostly white, male and upper-middle-class.

The total esports audience is expected to grow 15 percent this year, to 454 million people watching others play fast-moving player-vs-player matches onscreen — sometimes in loud amphitheaters, but often remotely through digital streaming services like Twitch.

The estimated 2019 revenue of esports is expected to top $1.2 billion worldwide, six times as big as in 2014.

Quite simply, esports are having a moment: NBC recently said it plans to air “The Squad,” a new comedy series about a group of friends who bond over competitive esports. And CBS earlier last month said it was producing a sitcom pilot of its own, about a retired pro basketball star “who attempts to reconnect with his estranged son by buying an eSports franchise.” Corporate sponsors are taking note — one league this year inked sponsorship deals with several top brands, including Coca-Cola, Toyota, T-Mobile, HP and Intel.

Academia is also taking note: This Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Education Department is holding an “Ed Games Expo,” complete with a conference on esports at the Wilson Center. Perhaps more significantly, colleges and universities are fielding esports teams and offering millions of dollars in scholarships to high school-aged video gamers.

J Collins, a computer science and game design teacher, and the all-girls esports team at the Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland. Collins is hoping that the new co-ed Mischief League catches on as a free, inclusive alternative to the typically male, shooter-based world of esports. (Hathaway Brown School)

Actually, that was one of the key reasons to start a new league, said J Collins, a computer science and game design teacher at Hathaway Brown, a private girl’s school in Cleveland. Collins, who is transitioning from male to female and prefers the pronoun “they,” previously led game-based education and ed-tech policy initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education.

“Right now, those scholarships and that money are primarily going to young, white, affluent boys,” Collins said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it needs to be highlighted that that is not the only model that we can have for K-12 esports.”

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That realization grew partly from Collins’s own transformation. Collins, who grew up male, recognizes “how much the game industry markets to and relies on ideas of boyhood and masculinity.” The teacher recognized a hole in the educational market for non-traditional gamers.

“As a transgender teacher and as someone who works at an all-girls’ school, I feel like I have to respond to that. I can’t just bring in another esports program designed for boys that mostly plays games targeted at boys. It won’t work. And it won’t create the kind of inclusive program that all students need in order to thrive.”

Mischief League

At Hathaway Brown, Collins helped launch the first U.S. all-girls varsity esports program last year, serving as its coach. Recent statistics show that though females comprise 46 percent of gamers overall, the vast majority of competitive esports players are male.

Collins has said the trajectory for girls in esports is likely the same as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in that they’re often as high-performing as boys but don’t pursue it because they have few role models — and even fewer positive experiences.

Collins and others hope the co-ed Mischief League will be different. For one thing, it’ll be free and available not just to schools but to libraries and other community institutions. For another, the games will look a lot different. Most popular esports titles are first-person, team-based shooters, such as Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, and Overwatch, or multiplayer online battle arena games such as Dota 2.

Mischief League plans to keep only Dota 2 in its initial four-game catalog. The others — more PG-rated and likely to pass school board muster — include a cartoon fighting game called Brawlhalla, a drone racing simulator called Liftoff and the massively popular world-building game Minecraft.

Wait, competitive Minecraft?

Actually, Collins said, the Minecraft matches will be more collaborative than competitive. The plan is to post a challenge related to computational thinking that two opposing teams take up — they’re expected to pursue it as collaborators over the course of the school year. Judges will score the projects and apply the scores to the bottom line of both teams. “Ideally, these two schools or libraries will be talking to each other all year, trying to figure out the best way to score the most points,” Collins said.

That alone will set the new league apart from larger, more well-funded efforts such as the High School Esports League and PlayVS.com. Those feature both sports and shooter titles that typically appeal to boys, but exclude a large potential player base.

Collins called it the Die Hard Effect: “Die Hard is a wonderful movie. It has a certain demographic that appreciates it and a certain demographic that doesn’t. And it’s totally fine to have a movie night and invite everybody over to watch Die Hard. But don’t be surprised if some people don’t show up.”

Esports is a $1.2 billion industry expected to reach 454 million people this year. But its fan-base remains overwhelmingly white, male and upper-middle-class. (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

CJ Melendez, a spokesman for the High School Esports League, which counts more than 2,000 schools and 50,000 students as members, said the organization had no formal response to the new league’s formation, but added that they’re “happy to see more organizations support teens and young adults taking part in esports!”

‘Can you build a team?’

One of those teens is Emma Young, 18, a senior at Hathaway Brown and one of the original team members. She said the league is giving her an opportunity to play cooperatively with teammates for the first time. “Not a lot of girls are into the games that I’m into — so to have people to play with is a new experience that I’m not too familiar with, and it is taking getting used to. But it’s also really nice.”

Young doesn’t play first-person shooters, opting for more complex strategy or role-playing games “that tell a story.”

“It’s like a movie or a book,” she said. “It’s another way to tell a story, just maybe this time it’s interactive. Just to have something that is meaningful to me in my life — and to see it get some recognition as not just something mindless and violent and just for boys — is really exciting.”

Teams in the new league will also be required to cycle players through all four games, much as Olympic decathletes would. That moves schools away from drilling players obsessively on one game. Because everyone is a kind of generalist, “It changes the core loop of what you’re doing from, ‘Are you good at this game?’ to ‘Can you build a team? Can you navigate social structures and community to create a society inside of your school?’” Collins said.

Most of the competitions will take place online, but the league encourages teams — it is starting the season with seven Cleveland-area schools and one library — to meet up at least three times a year, including at a live championship. That may be logistically challenging, Collins said, but worth the trouble. “When this happens in person, it is such a special thing to see students from a poor school and a rich school, an urban school and a rural school — all of these people come together, and sit down and start playing. They won’t even ask each others’ names, they’ll just sit down and start playing games together to get to know each other.”

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Because it’s free to join, Collins said the league is attracting different kinds of schools, both public and private. Last spring’s first-season finalists, both from northeast Ohio, were a rural school with a high poverty rate and an urban school where fewer than five percent of students met state math requirements. Based on interest from schools in other states, Collins expects the league to expand in the coming years.

Engaging students ‘where they are’

The league is run by the nonprofit GG+, whose board of directors is entirely female, made up of four women who work in gaming and educational technology. One of them, Elizabeth Newbury, directs the Serious Games Initiative at the Wilson Center, which has developed games around climate change and the federal budget. She said many teachers are looking to esports as a way to understand what their students love. “It’s really about meeting students where they are and engaging them where they are.”

But shouldn’t school be a place to challenge kids with things they don’t already like? Newbury pushed back: “I think that the point of education is really to afford those growth opportunities for students and to give students a place to belong,” she said. “That can be done through affording them opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have at home.”

After a recent loss, Hathaway Brown team captains came up with reminders for esports success based on challenges they were having. (Hathaway Brown School)

The new league will be welcomed by many gamers, but it faces a few challenges if it wants to grow and be successful long-term, said Mark Deppe, director of esports at the University of California, Irvine. “First, they’re playing games that currently don’t have big audiences, so they may struggle to get people interested,” he said via email. “The other is that they will still need to address the societal issues that hurt diversity.”

Those include a bias toward encouraging boys to play video games and online hostility toward people who don’t look, talk and act like “real gamers,” he said.

Members of the new league say they’re drawn by the same quality that has always attracted kids to afterschool activities: a sense of fun. “School is already very stressful,” said Claire Hofstra, 15, a sophomore and Hathaway Brown team member. “Video games are a good way to de-stress.”

Having to learn the intricacies of four new, often unfamiliar titles also helped the group bond. “We all struggled together,” she said. “We didn’t really care if we won or lost. We preferred to win, but we had fun either way, and that’s all that mattered.”

Disclosure: Greg Toppo, author of “The Game Believes in You,” will be participating in a panel discussion Thursday on esports at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

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Prague Gaming Summit gears up for record-breaking year

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Prague, 18th February 2020: The Prague Gaming Summit, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)’s largest betting and gaming industry conference, is ready to smash all attendance records this year with its largest line-up yet.

prague-gaming-summit-gears-up-for-record-breaking-year

The fourth edition of the show, organised by the CEE region’s leading media platform European Gaming, will take place on the 6th March 2020 at Vienna House in Prague’s Andel district, starting at 08.45am.

With major speakers set to include Maksym Liashko; Partner at Parimatch, Panagiotis Skyrlas; Head of InfoSec and Compliance at Betano Stoiximan, and Kamil Popiolek; Legal Counsel at Superbet, the summit’s action-packed line up will include numerous leading tier one operators and service providers from across Europe.

With a conference agenda shaped around the CEE region’s hottest developments for 2020, the summit will feature a full day’s track covering key regions including Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics and Greece,  as well as customer personalisation, Gen Z demographics and the convergence of markets in online sports betting.

Zoltan Tuendik, Founder and Head of Business and Events at European Gaming said: “The Prague Gaming Summit continues to go from strength-to-strength and has established itself in the iGaming calendar as the most informative event of the year when it comes to setting the agenda for CEE developments.

“We’re thrilled at the size at which the event has grown, and have no doubt this year will be our biggest yet, with the region’s hottest topics and key executives ready to talk new markets, business strategy, sports betting, payments platforms and C-Level insight. If the CEE region is part of your business plans for 2020, this event is not to be missed!”

In a first for this year, the conference will introduce interactive workshops, roundtable discussions with leading industry figures and additional networking zones for all delegates.

Spotlight on the Czech Republic and Slovakia is one of two main tracks billed for the event’s opening, focusing on the two markets’ unique regulatory environment. The Ukrainian market opening, Greek market re-opening and Poland’s success will also be discussed by three of the market’s leading operators.

The afternoon will feature fireside chats between the CEE’s leading betting and gaming legal heavyweights, as well as panels focused on personalisation in the age of privacy, social media and online gaming tech and market focused discussions from industry leaders.

The conference will finish with its hugely popular invite-only Evening Social Gathering, with the highly prestigious location shared among delegates in advance. As part of European Gaming’s sustainability 2020 initiative, all refreshments and complimentary dining served will also be fully vegan.

With limited seating available, please register at: https://hipther.agency/product-category/praguegamingsummit/

For VIP Packages, including a delegate pass and two night’s accommodation at the official hotel, contact: Andrada Bota, B2B Sales Executive at European Gaming Media and Events, by email on [email protected] .

ABOUT THE PRAGUE GAMING SUMMIT

Even from its inaugural edition in 2017, Prague Gaming Summit has been considered as the leading event in the region which offers a priceless opportunity for local and international operators to get together yearly to network and learn. The conference has recorded considerable growth during the 2018 edition and continues to bring the quality platform with which usual delegates have already gotten used too. You can read the post-event reports from the earlier events on the following links 2017 / 2018 / 2019.

For more details visit www.praguegamingsummit.com

ABOUT EUROPEAN GAMING

European Gaming Media and Events (part of Hipther Agency) is a leading media and boutique event organizer company in Europe and produces the prominent conferences in the region such as:

  • CEEGC (Central and Eastern European Gaming Conference)
  • CEEG Awards (Central and Eastern European Gaming Awards)
  • Prague Gaming Summit
  • MARE BALTICUM Gaming Summit
  • BSG Awards (Baltic and Scandinavia Gaming Awards)
  • EGC (European Gaming Congress)
  • SEG Awards (Southern European Gaming Awards)

The live events/conference division is in charge of organizing boutique style executive gaming events that focus on bringing inside information from the top gaming experts in the European Union and beyond.

In short, they cover most areas of Europe with international events that serve the local and global industry, optimize networking opportunities and bring the hottest topics into scope.

The event destinations in 2020 and beyond will include a further expansion for the company in their quest to enter the Western European region and bring their expertise to produce local gaming events.

For more details about the calendar, agendas and locations, visit the Live Events/Conferences section on europeangaming.eu

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