Building blocks of eSports education
Editor’s note: This is the second of three posts on eSports in education, which will be posted one week apart.
Karl Ögland is a Remedial Teacher at Yrkesinstitutet Prakticum, and has been using video games in education since 2012. He is a mentor in a Minecraft project called Lärcraft, financed by the Finnish Board of Education, and has been a gamer since 1984. We have asked him to share his experiences integrating eSports into the national curriculum via a series of frequent blog posts. This second post details the way in which the eSports course was created and the fundamental building blocks of which it is constructed.
Building blocks of eSports in education
I have shared what I believe you learn from games and how we – Yrkesinstitutet Prakticum – connect it to the curriculum.
As Sweden uses another curriculum, Sport and Health specialization, they use same course content for every sport, no matter if it’s ice-hockey, sailing or eSports. But we had to come up with our own course content, so instead of using a curriculum we asked the industry: what is needed to build an eSports player?
We made it clear that we want to try to find tools for a good foundation, by giving us feedback the industry also had a chance to influence the educational content.
The eSports player profile
Together with Juha Kurppa, from ENCE eSports, and Teijo Sepponen, CEO Team Menace, we’ve come to understand that good physical condition is vital. It will affect your reaction times, helps you manage both stress and mental pressure, and helps you concentrate in front of the screen for long periods.
The image which increasingly appears in our minds does not differ much from an ordinary athlete. The thing we must remember, and it is very important, is that these persons (our eSports students) have usually had very bad experiences of school sports, including bullying. Our goal is not to create top athletes, but to provide better conditions for students to succeed in their hobby and, more importantly, to educate them in useful life skills like emotional intelligence and teamwork. Regardless of their future as eSports athletes, these skills will be very important.
eSports Finland provided six cornerstones, all equally important, and this became our foundation for the course content:
- Mental coaching
- Team spirit
- Goals and goal fulfilment
The engaged observer sees that more gaming is completely out of the question as all our participants play games anyway, now we want to give them the tools to become even better. Although we have several school teams in which students play, this activity serves to support the final two items on the list rather than simply being practice.
If schools change their attitudes towards gaming and eSports, students will start to listen to the teachers (that’s our experience). When this happens, schools have lots to offer the students where the students feel that they both will be seen and heard.
Building block one: Workout
Juha points out long-distance running or cycling improves durability and also helps you to clear the brain. It will help you with the needed hyperactive focus on the game. At some point he took a long walk every evening after his gaming exercises, and he felt that it improved his game in all aspects.
Therefore, some kind of physical exercise has to be on the list. Work-related injuries happen to be the same for a gamer as for someone with sedentary work, they have to be sure to prevent back/neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Building block two: Ergonomics
Education in ergonomics has never been as important as it is now. It’s not just a game as it can literally be the difference between a dream life and unemployment. Besides education, we also need physiotherapists to check our student’s sitting posture and to provide the tools to fix eventual problems.
Building block three: Mental coaching
With building block three we separate the wheat from the chaff: mental training. For this we need a sports psychologist or equivalent.
As we are dealing with teenagers, it is especially important for them to learn how to deal with both success and disappointment. Young people are still developing their socio-emotional skills, and losing matches can be very distressing. It turns out this is a very important building block to make our students understand the concept, the mindset: We’re not a bunch of people eating pizza and drinking Jolt cola, we’re athletes.
Building block four: Team spirit
“You should build a star team rather than a team of stars.”
PhD candidate game education research
How do we build a team? Same as usual, we dress them up as a team, we have them work in different situations as a team. We need to make them understand you have to sacrifice your ego for the team to win. People are depending on you, when you’re in a team no matter if you have to participate in training, even when you don’t feel like it.
Being a school allows us to provide team building exercises in a non-gaming setting, something that’s difficult for ordinary eSports organizations. Sportsmanship and friendship go together and that’s also one of the benefits we expect to see in the school environment: school spirit will be much improved after six months.
Building block five: Goals and goal fulfillment
This is another excellent way for eSports training to provide skills that support other areas of life. A gymnastics teacher has usually had a parallel sporting career or experience, therefore, they can easily construct this block. When losing, we know what we can improve and be better at. This is something that is needed, but rarely used, in Nordic eSports.
Building block six: Responsibility
We trust certain persons among the students to act as team captains, we trust that the students train together in-game. When they train in-game, in the evenings at their own computers, it’s school hours. We trust them to master the code of conduct, if not, we have to teach them.
Ultimately, everything is based on your – the teacher/trainer’s – attitude, therefore, we can’t repeat this enough times. Stop looking at the details, it is not important whether this is or isn’t a sport for you: for our target audience, the students, it’s a sport and that’s what matters! We use that idea in our course:
“Okay, so it’s a sport… Shouldn’t you begin to behave like a sportsman now?”
10 points and 200 lessons
As I mentioned previously, we only have 10 points available and that means 200 lessons. We also have six building blocks listed for the curriculum, and we want to have the industry behind us. There’s a discussion in Sweden right now about the good and bad educators; those who listen to the industry and those who don’t.
In September 2015 we asked the Swedish president of Svenska eSports föreningen (SESF), Magnus Jonsson, what’s the key thing for eSports players and he answered: “Gamers have one thing in common: You have to be able to stay focussed during very long periods (of time). The question is, how to get there?”
According to Jonsson, research has shown that physical activity not only strengthens the body but also mental abilities, the Swedish national sports association (Svenska riksidrottsförbundet) says regular physical exercise (especially for the young) increases well-being, self-confidence, concentration and learning ability.
Furthermore, research has shown that the brain works at night to process the information that was received during the day. So, if you are not resting properly during the night, what you have learned during the day (whether work or gaming) would be wasted as the brain has no time to take in the information properly.
Therefore, it’s an advantage if eSports players don’t just play a lot, but also engage in regular physical activity as it enhances the possibility to improve in the game. In most games you’re also competing as a team so, in addition to having knowledge of the game, it’s also important to be a good team player. You need communication skills, clear ways of functioning and to be able to listen to others; your ego can’t be bigger than your team.
We thought the best way we could support our students was with training opportunities and strengthening them as a team. Then it becomes simpler as you “only” have to be sports coordinator, or physical education teacher, to provide the proper education. We believe physical exercise is vital, therefore we provide morning training at a gym once a week. After training we serve breakfast, during which there are group discussions.
During school days this training is mandatory, during the periods of work experience you are instead obliged to train in-game. Of course, they do play as a team during three years and that’s also part of the school days. It is a difficult equation, one where the invested time, both for students and teacher, is much greater than the payment of the course credits or salary.
A day only has 24 hours, it should be divided into three parts:
- 8 hours of sleep
- 8 hours of work (school) and
- 8 hours of leisure.
As we want our students to be able to use those 8 hours of leisure to their maximum, we have given them training rights during school hours. Every double-session (once a week) contains one part of physical training and one part of theory (together with breakfast).
One important thing: the sport is very young so there’s not very much of the basic sportsmanship in this sport. Therefore, we – the educators- have to start from the very beginning and be moderators for different topics, while students take turns to act as the secretary.