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Why esports afterschool programs can be great for soft skill development

Published: June 27, 2023
Students in a Work ED program playing esports as a group.

Table of contents

    A quick introduction to esports

    Did you know that the first ever Olympic esports is kicked off, June 22nd? 

    That’s right, the actual Olympics is hosting an esports tournament in Singapore—and there have been rumours that esports could one day become part of the main summer Olympics event for years.

    But if you’re new to esports and looking to learn more, we’ve put together this quick guide so that soon enough you could be competing at the next esports Olympic Games.

    What are esports?

    Esports, short for electronic sports, can be any organized professional gaming in which players, often organized into teams, compete against each other in multiplayer video games. 

    Competitions can range from small-scale local tournaments to large-scale international events, attracting millions of viewers and offering substantial prize pools. A tournament for players of the video game Dota 2, called The International (or TI), offered $40 million in prize money and holds the record for the largest esports audience, peaking at 2.7 million viewers.

    So esports is big business. Esports is also popping up more and more in education. How has playing video games become so popular in afterschool and learning enrichment camps?

    Well, it turns out that young people can gain a lot of skills from playing esports—and maybe even craft a career out of this booming industry (and not just as a streamer, either).

    Let’s have a look at what young people can learn through esports programs and what careers are available to them.


    What soft skills do esports programs teach?

    A student helps another student put on a virtual reality headset.Esports programs can be a great way to develop social-emotional skills and learn to support others. Copyright Work ED.

    For almost as long as video games have existed, video gamers have been stereotyped as loners, spending hours staring at their screen instead of doing useful things like chores and homework. 

    And while many games are singleplayer (only one person required to play the game), there are many games that are multiplayer (where many players can play together). These games are often cooperative, where players have to work together to complete the mission or win the tournament. 

    So teamwork is the name of the game. And that’s really wonderful for students who feel less confident in group or sports situations: the digital world gives them a safe place to explore communication and collaboration skills that feels safe and controllable, especially in education programs where there are staff present to guide them. 

    Winning games and tournaments as an esports team requires practice, strong communication, forward planning, and the ability to adapt quickly. Which are actually all great workplace skills. And in an increasingly digital world, developing a responsible relationship with technology from a younger could provide an advantage.

    Read more about soft skills and skills gaps

    Esports programs develop the following soft skills:

    • Teamwork

    It isn’t just traditional sports that teach teamwork. In many esports games, relying on your teammates is crucial to winning. This means learning how to act as a team, respecting your teammates, and understanding how cooperation can lead to better outcomes.

    • A responsible relationship with technology

    Good quality programs will include “brain breaks” or periods of outdoor exercise so that students develop the habit of taking regular breaks from screens to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    • Communication

    This goes hand-in-hand with teamwork. Teams who communicate effectively cooperate effectively. Because video games, like sports, can feel very high stakes, it helps that in esports programs there are adults present to help keep things positive and supportive.

    • Develop respect for others in online environments

    The anonymity of online gaming can lead to bullying and harassment as video games companies have struggled to monitor and enforce respectful practices. Trained staff can help students understand their impacts on others even in digital realms, and teach them the importance of respect and compassion for their fellow players.

    • Community and network building

    A sense of belonging is emotional rocket fuel. Again, digital environments can feel like a safe place for young people to express themselves, accept others, and learn more about who they are. When this is combined with a classroom-based program, video games act as a bridge to helping shy students learn to trust themselves and others.

    Read more about social-emotional learning
    • Strategy

    Winning at esports is not just a case of who can press buttons the fastest. It’s often about thinking several moves ahead, or predicting your opponent’s actions. Chess players get a lot of credit for strategy, so why not esports teams? This kind of thinking is super important in business, too. Perhaps more CEOs should spend time playing esports ..?

    • Growth mindset

    Games create goals and growth by design. Levels get harder and greater expertise is needed to earn rewards. Again, having adult staff around can help young people understand the importance of practice and perseverance, and that even if they lost this time they still learned some skills and developed along the way. Knowing that winning isn’t everything and that having fun along the way is a reward in itself is a strong life lesson.

    Because esports programs sound exciting and different from other programs, they can be a great way to help develop these soft skills without class feeling too much like, well, class!

    What makes esports a good choice for afterschool programs?

    A group of students in a classroom playing video games, looking up at a screen that's off camera, with a mixture of fun and focus.Esports programs can be relatively easy to set up. Copyright Work ED.

    While serious esports players use serious gear, all a school really needs to launch an esports club is a way to play the games (laptops or consoles, plus control pads or a mouse) and a reliable internet connection.

    However, by adding a level of expertise and organization, plus more suitable equipment, schools can turn an esports social club into an effective afterschool program.

    Why esports make a great afterschool program:

    • Accessibility.

    Esports are generally more accessible than physical sports, allowing more students to take part in a fun group activity while developing skills.

    • Relatively easy to set up.

    At a basic level, most schools have what they need to set up an esports program: laptops, the internet, and staff. However, there are many layers to explore with afterschool programs to increase student experience, which we’ll get into below.

    • Students will actually want to show up!

    One of the hardest parts of afterschool is attendance. School districts can put in a ton effort into creating afterschool programs but end up with empty classrooms. Schools cans instead focus on topics students find interesting and build programs around those (see more details below).

    • Help students (and school staff) understand how the digital social ecosystem works.

    It’s hard for schools to stop online bullying if they don’t understand it. By introducing supervised digital programs such as esports, schools can learn more about how and why bullying takes place in this space, and help students navigate it safely.

    • Create diverse spaces.

    Most young people play video games, even if their life experiences and preferences vary greatly. Giving these students the opportunity to engage in a social activity they enjoy together may help build bridges that would not happen in the regular curriculum.

    • Create better relationships with video games.

    The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) report that as of 2022, 71% of children play video games. When it comes to asking whether video games are helpful or harmful, the research is mixed, though a study in Australia showed that the time spent playing video games can impact reading scores. By creating a supervised environment at an organized time and place, trained staff can help young people create a responsible relationship with video games that doesn’t lead to video game addiction

    If you’re convinced that esports can make for a good afterschool program, now consider that not all esports afterschool programs are created equal, and there are some logistics to navigate.

    Here’s a few things to consider if you want to make a truly effective esports afterschool program students will enjoy and parents will appreciate:

    How to make effective esports afterschool programs:

    • Understand what games students will likely want to play—and offer a variety.

    Some games, such as Minecraft and Fortnite, have been popular for a long time, while others come and go. There’s no point setting up an esports program that offers games students are tired with. On the other hand, different students like different games. It’s good to have a variety on offer, perhaps something more easy going such as one of the many Mario-related titles (e.g., Mariokart, Smash Bros), and a higher-skill game such as Rocket League or Counter Strike: Global Offensive).

    • Internet connection matters.

    Serious esports players wouldn’t dream of using wifi, no matter how fast it is. Instead they connect to the internet via an ethernet cable, which provides a faster, more relizable connection.

    • Equipment matters, too (but must be balanced with costs).

    The quality of laptop and display will make a difference to player experience. So will seating, mouse quality, keyboards, and lighting. Some programs will let students bring some or all of their own equipment, though there’s always a risk of theft or damage that students and parents should be made aware of and sign a waiver for. Staff should be able to make the most of current equipment in classrooms by connecting to smart boards. Investing in expensive gaming chairs in unlikely though, which takes us to the next point …

    • Schedule regular movement breaks.

    One of the benefits of introducing students to esports in the safety of the classroom is that staff can teach students the importance of breaks. Staff will facilitate breaks throughout the day, getting students outside where possible, and giving their eyes a break from the screen. Most importantly, they will teach students why taking breaks is important, so they can remember if they join esports teams outside of the classroom.

    • Show students the bigger esports picture.

    There’s much more to esports than the game-playing part. Being such a large industry, there are many roles and career pathways to explore. Help them understand how it could be a career pathway for them—as well as the potential risks and pitfalls of an industry that some say is in crisis.

    • Focus on those soft skills.

    The best clubs, classrooms, and afterschool programs go beyond the basics. Good teachers understand that applied knowledge and strong connections are what help students grow. Esports programs can be just the same: Students can develop the soft skills listed above, skills that will benefit them their entire lives, if staff approach their esports program in a conscientious way that goes beyond competitive video gaming to helping students understand their relationship with themselves, others, and their communities.

    A student has just thrown a basketball towards a hoop while her friends watch on.By running esports programs, staff can help students understand the importance of taking breaks. Copyright Work ED.

    So there you go. Done right, esports afterschool programs can help students find a safe and accessible community where they’ll have fun while developing useful soft skills.

    If you have any more questions about setting up esports or a variety of other career-development afterschool and enrichment programs, get in touch using the form below or email

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