With the academic school year wrapping up, some K–12 schools and colleges are starting to think about what next year’s extracurriculars will entail. When I was a kid, I tried a few sports, but, as a musician and trumpet player, I joined all the musical groups I could find and was part of the jazz, orchestra, and concert bands. I also spent some of my free time playing video games. Your school may be thinking about the upcoming football, lacrosse, and marching band seasons in the fall, but have you thought about what it takes to prepare for an upcoming esports season?
While esports has been around for a while now, its popularity as a school extracurricular activity and competitive sport continues to rapidly grow each year. There are many benefits of student participation in extracurricular activities which have shown to improve student scores in math and reading, increase focus in class, and result in higher self-esteem.1 Students who engage in extracurriculars, such as esports, can also experience a sense of belonging among their peers and classmates, regardless of skill level, physical abilities, gender identity, or age.
I think one of the biggest benefits of esports programs is that they offer another way to motivate students to pursue college and STEAM-related careers. Through esports, students can get excited about careers in game design, computer science, data analysis, broadcasting, graphic design, and even music production.
Today, esports-related college scholarships are offered more than ever, and some colleges even have their own esports teams. There are also nonprofits such as the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) that are providing students with the structure and tools needed to advance into a varsity esports team.
Technology considerations for esports
There are many aspects to consider if your school is looking to start an esports program, including gaining stakeholder alignment, securing funding, selecting a coach, identifying practice and competition spaces, gathering necessary equipment, and building the team. However, once you have gotten started and you have a group that is ready to go, your team will rely on three things for practices sessions and competitions: dedicated spaces, ergonomic furniture, and technology. I am going to speak primarily on the technology considerations, though it is important to note that having dedicated spaces and the right ergonomic furniture are also vital to the success of esports teams.
Just as access to quality equipment can directly correlate to an athlete’s performance on the field, court, or wherever else they play, PC system performance can directly correlate to each esports players’ performance in a game.
It is important to note that the initial technology cost to start an esports team can be low if you have an existing computer lab. Several schools start their esports programs with existing technology and build from there. So, let’s go over the technology requirements that every esports team will need to be successful.
Selecting Device Form Factor
While gamers play across myriad platforms, Windows-based PCs already dominate the gaming and esports industries. Also, many of the games that are played in esports leagues are not supported on Apple M1-based devices.
Regarding form factor, desktops are often the preferred choice for esports because they can provide more processing power, memory, storage, and greater monitor size, which are all things that can impact a team’s competitiveness. While many students prefer laptops and 2-in-1s because of their portability, esports teams don’t have similar mobility requirements because teams typically meet in a designated practice space where their equipment is set up and stored.
When choosing a desktop monitor, you should consider the resolution (esports teams should aim for 1080p), screen size (at least 22 inches for desktops), and refresh rate (144Hz). Here, choosing the best monitor can help ensure a balanced gaming experience.
Powerful CPU and GPU
A high-performing CPU and GPU are some of the most important components of a gaming computer. Users will need at least an Intel® Core™ i7 or i9 processor, which each provide a core count and clock speed to support faster load times and smoother gameplay. And when using devices with the latest 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors, gamers can get a unique combination of performance and efficiency, allowing them to run demanding games alongside any complementary software, like companion apps.
Graphics-wise, an efficient GPU can not only affect the graphics themselves but also the frame rate and visual stability. Intel recently released its own graphics card, the Intel® Arc™, which uses Intel® Iris® Xe graphics. This lets users play with a GPU that’s separate from the device’s integrated graphics while also experiencing games in 4K resolution and 1080p.
Memory and storage
Many games require at least 8GB of memory, but 16GB is becoming more of a standard in the gaming community. RAM, or short-term memory, is also important for smooth and faster gameplay. For quicker access to gaming and media storage, consider a high-speed solid-state drive (SSD).
Quality seating and spaces
For my non-technical recommendations, I highly suggest investing in quality seating and spacious meeting areas and competition spaces. Just like a football player needs a good pair of cleats and a spacious field to practice and play on, gamers need quality, ergonomic seating and dedicated areas for practice and competition.
Lots of gamers play for fun as a leisure activity. However, esports isn’t a couch-based activity. While esports teams in K–12 schools don’t need expensive or fancy gaming chairs, they should at least be ergonomically designed to reinforce healthy computing habits.
For practice and competition spaces, esports programs will need a dedicated “battle station area” where team members have their chairs, monitors, desktop PCs, and peripheral devices set up. For newer esports programs, having both a practice and competition space may not be necessary, but they can be helpful if space allows. Additionally, if space allows, you could consider adding a spectator area where an audience can view a competition live and in person.
Esports as an innovative extracurricular
Video games are so prevalent today, it makes sense that it has become a serious, competitive sport. I personally never thought that video games would ever get to this point, but I am here for it! If I were a kid growing up today, I’d probably join an esports league for the same reasons I participated in music: for the community, social interaction, and creative outlet
Esports is more than just gaming, it is about team building, communication, and creative and strategic thinking—all skills that will also benefit students in their future. It combines students’ passions for PC gaming with the skill-building, leadership, and social-emotional aspects that come with any extracurricular activity. While it’s not physically enduring like soccer or basketball, esports is changing the way students engage in extracurriculars by fostering a new environment for them to learn, grow, and socialize.
If you are looking to learn about scholastic esports programs from an educator perspective, you can subscribe to the Intel Communities education blog to receive updates on the newly formed Esports in Education community. In July 2022, the community will discuss the newly released Leagues of Learning, K–12 Esports Blueprint, which has been commissioned by Intel, for anyone interested in a thorough exploration of esports in education.
1. “Extracurricular Participation and Student Engagement,” National Center for Education Statistics, June 1995, https://nces.ed.gov/pubs95/web/95741.asp.
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