The Dalimss Sunbeam Group of Schools in Varanasi recently added e-sports to its list of extracurricular activities. Students across its five campuses in and around Varanasi will now not only play, but also learn through games such as Minecraft, a popular sandbox video game, and Rocket League, a vehicular soccer video game.
E-sports is growing by the second globally. According to a report on the world games market by Newzoo, a leading global provider of games and esports analytics, the number of gamers worldwide increased by 5% in 2021. The Asia-Pacific region contributes the most to the gaming industry, spending $88.2 billion (around ₹6.8 trillion) last year.
The move by Dalimss Sunbeam represents a small step in a bigger digital gaming culture trend that is picking up pace globally. Take the examples of South Korea and the US, for instance. In October 2021, Hanshin University established Korea’s first graduate school of interdisciplinary finishing convergence e-sports where students would be granted a master’s of science degree in a program on e-sports convergence. According to a report in The Korea Herald, the curriculum is designed to help students become professionals who can participate in e-sports competitions or join relevant industries in the future.
In the US, there was a 500% increase in the number of high school e-sports developmental and grass-roots programs and tournaments from 2018-19, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Frontiers In Psychology.
Can learning and gaming go hand in hand? “It was the children of the school that demanded this. They wanted to stay back and play video games with their friends. We looked into it and decided to make it official. With adult supervision, we can make them play together. Slowly, we realized that these games are also educational and can teach them something. That’s when we added it to the school curriculum,” says Maahir Madhok, additional director, Dalimss Sunbeam Group of Schools.
Parents were consulted and their initial scepticism was washed away when the school organized a Minecraft competition for students in March. The response was positive, says Madhok. “From my own experience during my college years in Singapore, I have seen that e-sports brings a sense of togetherness among the students. It also brings in a very healthy competitive nature,” he adds on the phone.
The school has hired an IT professional, who specializes in e-sports and will also train the teachers. “I think times are changing. With that, our methods of teaching should also change. E-sports is going to play a huge role in the development of a child. I hope other schools can follow us and include e-sports in their curriculum as well,” says Madhok.
Scientific research has shown that playing video games is associated with motivational, cognitive, social, and health benefits. While there is limited empirical evidence on the benefits of participation in adolescent e-sports programs, research does indicate that such programs have the potential to positively impact the development of communication, teamwork, problem-solving skills, professional and academic skills, emotional learning and mental health, the Frontiers In Psychology study explains.
In some countries, certain games are also being used to explain complex topics to students. Recently, in Preston, UK, a new Minecraft world (a map of sorts) was also used to teach schoolchildren about climate change and flooding. With e-sports also set to make its debut at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou later this year, the interest around online gaming is only going to expand. In fact, India is planning to send an 18-member e-sports contingent for the mega event, where teams will face each other across eight e-sports titles, including Fifa, Dota 2 and HearthStone.
“Overall, there’s been a gradual pivot towards online gaming because so many children were confined to their homes due to the pandemic for the last two years,” says Shivani Jha, a tech-policy lawyer and director, EWA Centre, a research centre within the EPWA, a non-profit working on the rights of e-sports players in India. “Providing infrastructure for a lot of games (like Dota 2, for example) is a heavy ask for educational institutions because console gaming is very expensive… Such initiatives have to be equivalent to traditional sports. It cannot be treated as something secondary,” says Jha. “You’ll also need the right precautions. Parental regulation is very important, with mechanisms to ensure the safety of young gamers online, apart from making sure there’s equal participation and fairplay.”
Despite the many advancements in the world of online gaming, the stigma of addiction is something that still persists, and rightly so. A recent trends report on video gaming from cybersecurity company NortonLifeLock said that 38% of gamers worldwide reported picking up gaming during the pandemic. Two in five gamers said their gameplay time increased during the pandemic, while nearly all gamers who noticed their game time increasing felt both positive and negative effects.
Medical experts Manoj Sharma, coordinator at the Shut Clinic at Nimhans, Bengaluru, and Pranjali Chakraborty Thakur, a research scholar at the clinic, say gaming in schools can be a fun and interactive exercise as long as it is monitored regularly and implemented in a guided atmosphere. When engaged in excessively, it can have serious ramifications. The experts add that apart from finding a balance between “online and offline time”, both parents and teachers should develop healthy technology related habits that they can model in front of their children. “E-sports in our country is a new concept and its effect on people is not well researched,” Sharma and Thakur explain in an email response. “Hence, the effect of e-sports as extracurricular activities at schools should be well-reviewed after it has been introduced. School authorities should be careful in monitoring the intensity of gaming, as well as screen out any problematic gaming present among the children.”
Experts in the e-sports industry though are upbeat. Gnana Shekar, chief marketing officer at the Chennai-based Skyesports, says it was only a matter of time before educational institutions in India picked up on this global trend. “It’s about time someone started this,” says Shekar, who adds that e-sports can be an interesting tool for learning and personality building. “There are multiple educational games that come under e-sports and can make students better. This is already a big part of the e-sports culture in Europe and the US. For India, this is like a stepping stone. But it is important that schools promote this in a healthy way.”