Digital learning is enabling students of all ages to move well beyond passive engagement with teachers and their peers. Indeed, students now expect to explore, experience and actively participate in the educational experience.
eSports in the classroom
eSports is one example of digital learning that offers students and teachers an exciting opportunity to gain collaborative skills in an unconventional and dynamic environment. According to James O’Hagan, Director of Digital & Virtual Learning at the Racine Unified School District, eSports can help schools and athletic departments promote school spirit, unlock new roles for lecturers and potentially dissuade the gender gap imposed by traditional sports.
“Watching [eSports] game[s] in real-time and you start to see creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking (the 4Cs) are alive and well and very necessary for students to master in order to be successful,” he explains. “The 4Cs are modern skills we wish every student to master. Yet, most schools and classrooms do a very poor job of imparting these skills.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the concept of educational eSports is beginning to gain serious traction in schools. For example, Columbia College recently decided to host ‘Girls Who Game,’ an eSports event for middle-school girls. At that age, says Piyusha Singh, Columbia College’s vice president of online education, girls often start losing confidence about pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In addition to hosting an Overwatch match, Columbia College taught the girls how to program and design games, with participants expressing interest in coding (via Kodu), creating 3D environments, developing characters and writing storylines for games.
“Video games can be the gateway to a lot of STEM stuff,” Singh states. “Given that video games and technology are already so important and are going to be more important going forward, you really want girls being in that field.”
Mike Washburn and Steve Isaacs express similar sentiments in a recent EdSurge article, noting that eSports could be a “valuable gateway” to technology jobs, just like teaching programming, robotics, graphics, and web design.
“It’s not just about liking video games. To be truly competitive, players must be highly skilled and devote incredible amounts of time and effort into practice,” the two opine. “Every student is different and the pathway to their passions is not the same. We’ve seen video games be the influence for thousands of the world’s most successful people. Maybe eSports is what captivates that hard to reach student. Maybe an educator [can] use it as a way to turn that passion into achievement.”
Competition and scholarships
Beyond the classroom, Josh Moody of Forbes reports that colleges are now “betting big” on the multimillion-dollar eSports market. For example, the University of Akron, which plans to build the world’s largest eSports facility, has allocated $750,000 for three eSports facilities, $400,000 for program operating costs and $70,000 for game licenses and other associated costs.
“More than 5,200 square feet will be dedicated to competitive gaming at the varsity, club and recreational levels,” writes Moody. “The nerve center for the competition will be in a 1,222-square foot gaming area on the first floor of the Zips football stadium complete with a viewing area for spectators and broadcast studio.”
It should be noted that universities across the country have opened eSports gaming arenas including the University of California, Irvine, Robert Morris University Illinois, Tiffin University, Hawaii Pacific University, and Boise State University. In addition, some colleges are now offering scholarships to eSports players, such as Schreiner University, Missouri Valley College and Ohio’s Ashland University. Moreover, the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE) has allocated $9 million for e-sports scholarships.
Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit (NACE), says the organization has observed rapid eSport growth in recent years. In fact, NACE, which governs more than 90 percent of varsity eSports programs in North America, kicked off operations in 2016 with just 6 campuses. Today, NACE boasts 87-member institutions, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) estimating that more than 475 colleges and universities support eSports at the club level.
The eSports Wi-Fi challenge
eSports stadiums and arenas present an extremely challenging environment for wireless networks, as streaming media already generates a considerable amount of traffic in such venues. Nevertheless, bandwidth-hungry technologies such as AR, VR, and 4K video are on their way to becoming standard requirements for eSports fans and players in the coming months and years.
From our perspective, next-generation 802.11ax wireless access points (APs), along with multigigabit switches and fiber-based backbones, will be required to support the eSports stadiums and venues of the future. Indeed, 802.11ax APs are designed for ultra-high-density environments and can help eSports stadiums achieve up to a four-fold capacity increase (over 802.11ac Wave 2 APs) in dense scenarios with data streams rates of over 10 Gbit/s. In addition, 802.11ax enables multiple access points deployed in ultra-high-density environments such as eSports stadiums to deliver faster and more reliable Wi-Fi to more users.
However, even with new 802.11ax APs, designing a network to support seamless 4K streaming and bandwidth-heavy AR/VR content in a crowded eSports stadium is a challenging proposition. This is because it will take some time for devices owned by eSports fans and players to take full advantage of 802.11ax APs. Fortunately, there are multiple 802.11ax-like features that can be supported on older APs and devices, including those that reduce unnecessary traffic, minimize interference and maintain a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection for users.