Mission Control CEO Austin Smith authored a piece for EdNews Daily on the need for human connection during the pandemic, check it out!
Recreational Esports are the Human Connection Students Need During the Pandemic
The college experience has been quite different for the millions of students who have been attending classes amid a pandemic. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, less than 4% of institutions have been offering fully in-person curriculums since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Most are supplementing or replacing traditional classrooms with online activities and remote lectures, and college administrators agree that options could change fast in light of further virus outbreaks.
Classes are not the only aspect of college disrupted by the pandemic. Sports, Greek life, campus dorms, and countless other staples of American college life look different from years past. In this new normal, college students must find creative ways to make connections, and one avenue for those connections is recreational esports.
A New Social Landscape
For many Americans, the college experience is transformative. Diverse college campuses introduce students to new people, perspectives, and ideas that broaden their worldviews and help them develop. The friends made on campus often become lifelong pals or valuable career contacts, as students’ college social circles lay the foundations of their professional networks.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has restricted how students can work alongside peers and professors. It’s hard to hone skills like collaboration, active listening, and critical thinking with limited social interaction. Students’ opportunities for interactions in clubs or social groups outside the classroom have also changed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying 6 feet away from other people, and many states limit facilities’ capacities and gathering numbers. In this environment, it is difficult for students to reap the full benefits of college.
This is where recreational esports can step in. Playing video games with others promotes teamwork and cooperation, creating an opportunity for students to build interpersonal skills and form lasting relationships while remaining safely physically distant. Because many games support voice or text chat, it is possible for students — digital natives like Millennials and Gen Zers — to build real connections through a screen.
These elements have made video games increasingly popular among young adult audiences. Over the past decade or two, video gaming has shifted from a niche hobby to a national pastime; roughly 72% of men and half of women aged 18 to 29 play video games, according to data from Pew Research. Plus, gaming celebrities have increased in popularity on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch, drawing in millions of unique views worldwide.
Educators looking to facilitate the college experience for students online should consider hosting recreational esports leagues. An online gaming community that has grown around a particular game brings people from all over the world together due to shared interests. Within these communities, students can find a sense of belonging and build lifelong connections that will carry them into the professional world.
Promoting Recreational Esports
For colleges and universities that lack pandemic-friendly clubs and events, recreational esports is a great place to start. After all, 70% of students already play video games, according to the Pew Research Center. Educators can capitalize on this opportunity by encouraging students to participate in activities similar to what they already do.
Most students have adapted to the shift from in-person to online activities, so there is no barrier preventing educators from engaging them online. Educators should schedule online esports programming and create a central location for students interested in gaming to meet up and join a community. When there is a go-to place for conversations and fun, it’s easy for students to maximize their college experience during an otherwise strange year.
For example, because of COVID-19, the esports club at Rutgers University in New Jersey has become stronger. The college hosts a Discord gaming server with more than 2,800 members who meet weekly online to talk and play video games. Similarly, in a partnership with Backyard Camp in Canada during summer 2020, Mission Control provided virtual recreational esports leagues for dozens of campers who were unable to meet in person for camp. Money raised from the leagues went to Kids Help Phone, a 24/7 national counseling service in Canada.
Although virtual, these environments foster a sense of connection for students who used to see each other every day on campus and for freshmen who have not had the same networking opportunities as their peers. Educators who are brainstorming potential activities for students during the pandemic should consider hosting recreational esports. Most platforms support different servers or leagues, so colleges can create separate spaces for each video game community and cater to a wide range of preferences.
Schools should do everything possible to ensure students make human connections in college in 2020. By offering recreational esports, educators can provide entertainment and social opportunities for a group starved for normalcy — creating lifelong friendships and interests in the process.