The rise of the e-athlete

madden25cover_610aaa This summer, inspired by middle schoolers everywhere, I’ve made it my mission to figure out how to play Minecraft, and I’ve chronicled my efforts in a series of posts on Randolph Hum. The motivation for this quest was to better understand how games and game design are becoming a bigger part of education for students. Two major organizations, the Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, have spent millions researching how video games help kids learn. As USA Today reported last year, they’ve invested over $10 million in designers and researchers to help with an initiative they call the Institute of Play, a major part of which is something known as GlassLab. GlassLab looks to bring the principles of game design to students throughout the nation as video and computer games have become a focus of many schools, especially in lower grades. By teaming game designers with experts in learning and assessments, GlassLab is leveraging “digital games as powerful, data-rich learning and formative assessment environments.” One of the initiatives of GlassLab is a game called SimCity EDU, where students play the role of the mayor of a city forced to address the environmental impact of pollution. To read more about how big an impact games have had on education, check out Edutopia’s collection of game-based learning resources and this video from Katie Salen and her school for digital kids in New York (funded, in part, by the Institute of Play):

If all this isn’t proof that video and computer games have a future in education, according to the Chicago Tribune, Robert Morris University in Illinois just announced they will be giving out athletic scholarships to students who are good at the “League of Legends” video game. Robert Morris is calling these prospective gamers, “e-athletes” and hopes that this initiative will reach an underserved student population–“technologically minded young men who aren’t into team sports, and who need an extra boost to get to college and stay there.” Robert Morris will set aside $450,000 to fund about 30 scholarships for three varsity teams of expert gamers. E-athlete Zi Huang was quoted in the Tribune as saying “(The scholarships) just show RMU_Esport_LoL_intro_press_graphicthat ‘League of Legends’ is a sport and should be recognized by many colleges.” Starting next year, those that play the game will be recognized at Robert Morris as part of a team but will not be a part of the NCAA. The college will look to compete in events like the Collegiate Starleague, which, the Tribune reports, runs national championships in three games: League of Legends, StarCraft II and Dota 2. To date, about 550 schools compete in these tournaments. Since announcing the e-athlete initiative, Robert Morris has been inundated with over 700 inquiries from prospective gamers looking to grab one of their 30 scholarship offers.

If the last few weeks are any indication, I don’t think I have a future as an e-athlete. I’ve spent about six hours total trying to learn Minecraft and I haven’t made much progress. But, what I’m starting to like about the game probably holds true for students regardless of their age. Being able to take control of my learning, work at my own pace, and embrace failure by learning from my mistakes are all positive aspects of the gaming experience. While the verdict is still out on how big an influence computer and video games should have in a classroom, I think some of the basic lessons one can take from the gaming experience have value no matter your age or subject being studied. I don’t know if I’ll ever go see a League of Legends tournament; however, I would like to visit Katie Salen’s school.

Total Hours Playing Minecraft: 6

Lessons Learned: I like games but finding time to play is difficult. #adulthood

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