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Esports as an equity tool?

Colleges and universities seek to level the higher education playing field by playing to the next level

July 14, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Editor's note: This article is part of an Estherville News effort to provide continuing coverage of equity in higher education originating from staff writer Amy H. Peterson's work with the Poynter Institute on this topic.

Parents who are having trouble kicking their kids off the video games and into the great outdoors may be able to take heart: the kids' hard work to reach the new level may one day land them a college sports scholarship.

According to recent data from the American Council on Education, Esports, which is a collegiate name for competitive video gaming, could be a powerful way for colleges and universities to invigorate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program enrollments, especially for students from underrepresented groups.

The study from ACE found Hispanic/Latino and African American students were the least likely to enroll in and complete computer degree programs, accounting for 17 percent and 12 percent of all STEM graduates.

Female students are increasing their participation in STEM majors but still around the world are outnumbered two to one in completing their education and working in the fields, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO's 2017 paper, "Cracking the code: girls' and women's education in STEM."

By offering scholarships and using Esports as a platform to build and grow interest in STEM, competitive gaming could take its place as a funding vehicle to bring more students into STEM fields. Colleges and universities offered nearly $15 million per year in scholarships for competitive gamers.

If a college is going to offer Esports scholarships, students need a place to compete. Enter the Esports arena. Beyond a place to host collegiate competitions, these high-tech centers can host the gaming community in more casual gatherings and allow students from all fields to join practices, friendly matches, and inclusive STEM-related events.

Some colleges are contemplating a move to go all-in with a push for themed housing where men and women can encourage each other to explore STEM subjects through a mutual love of gaming.

Students with disabilities could benefit from higher education's growing interest in Esports. Students with autism, who may struggle to connect with peers who may make assumptions about their abilities and intelligence based on their labels, whether autism spectrum, ADHD, or mental disorder, a passion and aptitude for gaming could provide a way for such students to gain the respect of their peers and be treated as an equal colleague or teammate.

Is playing video games good for kids and teens in the way playing outside is? Experts say there is a balance.

A study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charit University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus in Berlin, Germany found playing video games increases grey matter in humans' brains and helps refine learned and hardwired skills.

Playing video games improves regions of the brain responsible for memory, spatial orientation, information organization and fine motor skills. Researchers said not only does it improve the minds of kids and teens, but perhaps the kids should play 30 minutes or so with grandma and grandpa to help improve their memory and organization of information, too.

A study published in the medical journal PLOS One found benefits for surgeons who were gamers as they improved their eye-hand coordination and precise muscle movement.



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