ESports Case Study - Exeter College 

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In January, we had the pleasure of speaking to Exeter College’s ESports Production and Management course leader and a few of his students who are eagerly taking part in this new, competitive gaming landscape. Over the last year, 32 students have got involved with the recently developed ESports course and it was no surprise to hear that it caused instant excitement across the college; you only have to see about the rise in ESports gaming, to understand why!

Those involved in the course are 16+ and have all completed a previous level 3 course to advance to this one. Students who progressed on to this course are currently classed as ‘NEET’ (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) so this vocational opportunity allows them todevelop a variety of skills which they can then implement in later life.

When speaking to the course leader, Mark L'Estrange, he explained that the course is very independent and at times all he has to do is moderate the student’s activity, as they have such an enthusiastic approach to the gaming genre.

Students have the opportunity to work within ESports teams who will then go on to enter tournaments. Incidentally, some teams from the College have gone on to win tournaments and trophies, with events being organised by the British ESports Association.

What Does the Course Provide?

The course doesn’t just provide the young students with competitive opportunities; some can chose to be team leaders or work within the college’s TV studios to produce media content. Some can even get involved in the work it takes to develop an ESports event. This academic avenue allows young adults to ‘Manage, produce and game’, which, as we touched upon earlier, will allow them to develop various transferable skills for when they go into full time employment, higher education or professional gaming.

Mark explained that the idea for the course, which is situated within the Colleges ESports Academy, originated from one of the early national lockdowns. He noted that one thing that allowed teenagers and young adults to sustain relationships throughout that time was online gaming, which kept relationships alive. He then wanted to transfer this concept into an educational space to allow more relationships to develop and continue.

It’s safe to say that the students we spoke to have found an inclusive environment, within the academy. As we got to know more about them and the genre of competitive gaming we got to understand the positives around their involvement and the impact that it’s had on them! Here’s what they had to say:

An ESports Interview

Last year, Exeter College opened its ESports academy. How do you think young people from Exeter and the surrounding areas will benefit from this exciting new space and the opportunity to take part in competitive gaming?

E – ‘If you’re not as physically fit, or you’re not interested in participating in sports there wasn’t anything else to do, in a competitive environment and this gives people another avenue to go down if they want to be in a team and become part of something. This competitive and inclusive landscapes helps you to achieve.’

D – ‘In the first year, there wasn’t an enrichment activity that suited me. During the 2nd year, I found ESports; I managed the team and made loads of friends. It was a way for me to make friends and then during Covid, I was able to keep those friendships because we had those online relationships. These relationships have continued into this course.’

W – ‘ESports encourages young people to collaborate with each other in order to reach a common goal; it provides a safe environment for people to play with a team and build strong friendships.’

What skills can students learn from competitive gaming?

D – ‘There’s lots of transferable skills through ESports and so some students aren’t interested in the course itself, but are interested in the skills you get from taking part. For example they can gain skills around video production or social media.’

S – ‘Teamwork, how to handle emotions, dealing with others you may not always get on with, new gaming skills, how to run social medias, how to do public speaking, how to create a professional look for yourself, independency.’

How can competitive gaming nurture friendships and connections?

E – ‘With ESports and online gaming you can have virtual connections with your friendship group as well as that real life connection. You have that opportunity to meet new people, people that you wouldn’t have met if you did other things. I have friends all over the country that I’ve met online; we have that connection, because we’re enjoying competitive gaming, together. ‘

D – ‘I’m quite an anxious person, so I used to get nervous about texting friends when I got home as I felt I was annoying them. With online gaming I can put myself out there as it gives me the chance to communicate with others – that for me was the biggest thing.’

Many young people in the South West live in remote areas; how do you think gaming helps those who do? Regarding this, how do you think similar locations to the South West can benefit from an ESports or gaming centre for young people?

W – ‘Those who live in remote areas may not have an easy way to meet with friends in public due to lack of consistent transport; gaming allows people to keep in touch with friends online without the hassle of transport. Remote or localised areas may benefit from a gaming centre, since it allows anyone to meet others who live close to each other; a gaming centre would become a really social place for young people to go.’

S – ‘With gaming it’s almost like a new form of social media, it’s a way to connect to people in all locations. You can be in a remote area but have many friendships through online gaming as it doesn’t matter where they are they are able to talk to others far away. These locations would benefit from gaming centres as it offers better technology to work with so they can have equal chances as those in more urban areas. ‘

Are there any other precautions you take before you talk to someone that you haven’t met before?  Are you aware of the online precautions that you could take? 

D – ‘Through college, we have taken tutorials around online safety and what do to if you’re faced with an unsettling situation. We have seen resources about how to keep safe, but sometimes people don’t take those precautions because they think ‘it won’t happen to me’. Usually I don’t let people know who I am, because of my concerns.’

E – ‘If I’m in a random online game server, the chances are that I will interact with them but not give any personal details. If I’m in a call with my friends and they add someone I don’t know, I’ve already got the barrier that my friends say they’re ok – I’m going to still take precautions but I’ve already got that 2nd opinion on that person, and my friends can talk to them if their behaviour does change. ‘

Why do you think competitive gaming is so popular amongst young people and how do you think ESports will develop over the next few years?

W – ‘Gaming allows young people to relax and lets them participate in activities they may not be able to do. Young people can easily keep in touch with friends and forget any worries they might have while doing so. ESports is likely to grow for many years while giving new opportunities for those who take part in it.’

S – ‘Because it’s a way to escape for many students, to fall into these new intriguing worlds with friends or strangers. It’s a cheaper activity compared to many sports and one that offers rewarding experiences and achievements. It’s a way to meet new people and socialise. Its enjoyable, fun and different and exciting.’

Exeter College is also hosting the regions first ESports tournament! Can you tell us a bit more about this?

S – ‘There will be 16 different company teams from around Devon coming to play a rocket league tournament that we will be streaming live on twitch and posting about on social media. We are hoping to see students take command and lead this event with promotion, hosting and helping out with teaching the game!’

Over the next month, we’ll be informing teachers, parents and young people about how they can stay safe, whilst enjoying gaming. Do you have any tips about how competitive gamers can safely navigate these interactive, social spaces?

D – ‘If someone was being aggressive online, I would leave the game and walk away from that situation. We have been taught to block or mute someone but general online safety tips don’t specifically focus on ESports, which should be looked in to. ‘

S – ‘There are ways to turn off the ability for strangers to message you if you wish to keep yourself safe. Remember that you can always report players for harassment if it occurs just remember to keep a copy of messages or clip a video if someone says something in game. Be mindful of who you are allowing to follow you and what info you are sharing, generally you can private certain information if you want. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and colleagues.’

We know that gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the UK. According to statistics however, gaming is less popular amongst females, which we’ve taken an in-depth look at, here. Gaming is open to all genders and demographics, but how do you think more young women can get involved? And what would you say to those who would like to take part in professional and competitive gaming?

D – ‘As a girl who plays online, there is a lot of fear about the nastiness that comes with playing games, so whenever I join a voice chat I get comments about being a women and that I should ‘go back to the kitchen’, all of these comments! These put me off and have wanted me to change the way my voice sounds, so I don’t get comments on it.

At Exeter College, we have had more girls joining recently, especially in the Overwatch team – you just have to support them and make sure they know that it’s ok to get involved, but I am there if they do need any support. ‘

S – ‘Though the rate of women joining the gaming community is much lower than men this may not always be because they don’t want to. There is the first issue is that gaming is portrayed as a very male orientated hobby, girls see it dominated by men and often promoted towards men which can leave a sense of uncertainty and nerves about joining as they may feel out of place or unwelcomed because of this . There’s already a lot of stigma around gamers that can bring hesitancy to girls but its only further built on with how it’s made to seem more like a ‘ mans’ hobby over a girls hobby when it really isn’t the case . The next biggest issue is often it isn’t that they don’t want to game or haven’t taken part in gaming before, the issue falls to the harassment of women from male players. Much of the issue doesn’t go to trying to get to women to game and join competitions but to make the safe space for them by going down on the harassment from boys.

If you want to get more women to join you need to go to the root issue, the unsafe environment. Once the gaming industry is a safer place in all areas (gaming, streaming, competitions and those behind running competitions or developing games) along with more promotion of women in gaming, then you will get more women coming into gaming.’

Are there any negative factors surrounding competitive gaming (for example, amount of screen time) and if so, how should players manage them?

S – ‘Of course like anyplace there is online content, there is the chance for online bullying, players still however can report and mute these other players if it’s needed.

Screen time is a slight issue, players can put time limits on themselves if they wish when training. There is the issue with possible injuries or strains. Players should make sure they are still stretching and exercising especially for areas like their backs and wrists. There are plenty of exercises specifically for players to help prevent these injuries.’

W – ‘A person should try and balance a healthy lifestyle with equal amounts of screen time and outdoor activities. Another huge problem with ESports, and gaming in general, is toxicity. Toxicity can be the difference between a great game and the worst game you’ve ever played. Avoid being toxic as much as you can, leave voice chat if you need to. If you find that avoiding toxicity is becoming difficult, turn off the games for now and come back when you feel ready to.’

Final Considerations for ESports

As we’ve heard from these students, ESports and online gaming has many benefits, but like everything it can bring some negatives. It’s clear that young people enjoy this genre and they’ve found something that they can pursue in the future; to continue that enjoyment, they take into account online safety avenues and advice and importantly talk to people around them, to keep their wellbeing in check.

Thank you to all students who took part in our interviews! More details around Exeter College’s immersive Academy can be found from their website!

If you or a young person you know is taking part in competitive gaming, remember to take a look at our ESports article and any other of our exciting gaming resources so you can continue to enjoy what you’re doing, comfortably and safely. 

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