Esports summer camp more than just child’s play

What if playing video games could help prepare junior high and high school students for college and career success? In the right competitive and collaborative environment, it can do just that – while also being a lot of fun.

This past summer, the NIU Esports Bootcamp introduced students in grades 7 to 12 to popular esports games, such as Hearthstone, League of Legends and StarCraft II. As they played, campers practiced team building, strategy and competitive gaming skills, with an eye toward future competitive play. The students also had a chance to explore collegiate and professional opportunities related to esports.

Becky Griffith, one of the camp’s instructors, says a highlight of the camp was teaching students how to begin some popular esports games. “These games can be intimidating to get started in because of the skill level of the more veteran players,” Griffith says. “Our campers played in groups of the same skill level, allowing them to experience the triumphs and challenges of the gameplay together.”

Fellow instructor Conner Vagle, who is also the president of the NIU Esports Club, found that this sense of togetherness was central to the camp, and to esports in general. “While the students tended to divide into groups based on age, many of the students still took the opportunity to learn from one another and to teach one another based on their own previous expertise in a topic. This not only allowed instruction past my own skill level, but it allowed more students to really get the sense of community that esports as a whole tries to create.”

By the end of the week, students were prepared to try their hand at competitive gameplay, in the form of a single elimination tournament. Vagle says, “The students really enjoyed the competitive atmosphere, as well as the chance to have the finals shown on Twitch,” an online streaming video service that focuses primarily on live video game streaming.

He continues, “While the eventual winner of each tournament had dabbled in the games before, I think the amount of stiff competition they faced in getting to the finals really showed how much effort each of the students put into learning the games.”

In addition to hands-on game play, students also had a chance to explore some of the collegiate and professional possibilities related to esports. Esports are a competitive college sport, with more than 70 varsity and 200 club teams on U.S. college campuses as of March 2018. And careers related to esports – ranging from competitive gaming to coaching, marketing, event management and broadcasting – are growing quickly.

“The Esports Bootcamp was a different type of camp than we have previously offered,” says Griffith. “Campers were immersed in a variety of competitive esports games, alternative careers in the field and other related communities like Twitch.TV.”

Vagle adds, “This camp was special because it provided the opportunity for the students to learn about something that really isn’t discussed too much yet. For example, some students were strictly console users, but the discussion of streaming, Twitch and careers in the industry really piqued their interest. We even had the opportunity to discuss contracts and law in esports because one individual was interested in becoming a lawyer and/or agent.”

The inaugural esports camp was so successful that plans are already in the works for future camps and workshops.

“We plan to hold more esports camps in the future,” says Aline Click, director of the NIU Digital Convergence Lab, which developed and hosted the camp. “As with this year’s camp, we hope to involve the NIU Esports Club to help coach younger students on specific games and career opportunities like broadcasting.”

Middle school students will have an opportunity to enroll in a one-day Esports Workshop as part of the Digital Convergence Lab’s “No School Workshops” this fall. These video game design, animation, coding and esports workshops are offered from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the days when DeKalb School District has no school due to teacher in-service or holidays. Visit dcl.niu.edu for more information or email dcl@niu.edu.

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