Dr. Kristy Custer is the President of Educational Innovation for Generation Esports. She leads a team that writes a curriculum which assists schools in integrating esports scholastically, socially, and competitively. Dr. Custer was an educator for 24 years and was named the 2018 Kansas Principal of the Year. As a teacher and administrator for at-risk students, she led her school to two National School of Character awards as well as the National Dropout Prevention Crystal Star Award. Dr. Custer has written several nationally and internationally recognized curriculum including a character education guide and full-credit courses for esports titled Gaming Concepts.
In recent years, esports, or competitive video gaming, has gained widespread popularity among young people. Males in particular are drawn to video games with reports stating that as many as 96% of boys aged 9-18 play video games regularly. With recent data highlighting concerning trends indicating a disparity in enrollment, academic performance, and graduation rates between male and female students, colleges and universities across the globe are increasingly integrating esports into their academic offerings to engage males.
Beginning at a young age, statistics reveal a troubling picture of male academic performance. Boys are disciplined at significantly higher rates than girls and are three times more likely to be expelled. Male test scores consistently trail those of females, and after years of falling behind, females have caught up with males in math and are almost a grade ahead of males in English.
A comparison of male and female grade point averages highlights this imbalance, with two-thirds of the highest achievers being girls, while two-thirds of the lowest achievers are boys.
The gap extends from K-12 education into higher education institutions, where female enrollment now surpasses male enrollment by a significant 16%. This widening gender gap marks a stark contrast to the 13% enrollment advantage men held over women when Title IX was passed in 1972, signaling a notable shift in the educational landscape.
These educational discrepancies also manifest in economic and social challenges. Graduation rates from high school are lower for males compared to females, with only 82% of males graduating compared to 88% of females. The substantial differences in educational attainment translate into lower labor force participation rates among men, resulting in over 9 million fewer men working compared to the share of men in the labor force in 1960. In addition to academic and economic repercussions, there is also a concerning rise in deaths of despair among men, including suicide, overdose, and alcohol-related fatalities, which are three times higher than those in women.
Amidst these obstacles, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of scholarly esports. In a nod to recognizing esports as the fastest-growing sport globally, with abundant career prospects, colleges and universities are now offering specialized degrees in esports management, game design, esports marketing, and related fields. These programs provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the esports industry, including its business aspects, technology, and competitive landscape. Esports majors equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in various roles within the esports ecosystem, including team management, event coordination, and content creation. Research has also shown that participation in esports can even enhance cognitive skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and strategic planning. These skills are not only valuable in the gaming arena but also transferable to academic pursuits and future careers. By leveraging the potential of esports, colleges and universities can empower male students to thrive academically while pursuing their passion for gaming and fostering social connections.
In addition to academic programs, colleges and universities are also offering scholarships to esports athletes. With over $20 million in scholarships offered annually, esports scholarships provide financial support to talented gamers while incentivizing academic achievement. These scholarships are open to students of all backgrounds, providing a pathway to higher education for those who may not have considered traditional sports or academic scholarships.
In response to critics’ claims, research consistently refutes the misconception linking video games to violence. Instead, it underscores the potential of collaborations between the gaming industry and clinicians to address mental health issues. In fact, Stanford researchers studying the link between video games and gun violence stated, “Our studies have found that continuing to lambast gun violence as the end result of video game use has no factual or research basis. With the spread of collaborations between the gaming industry and clinicians, video games might even be part of the solution.” Other studies have shown that adolescents enrolled in scholarly gaming curricula have experienced improved self-esteem, underscoring the positive impact of nontraditional educational instruction on students’ well-being.
The integration of esports into higher education has far-reaching implications for student success and empowerment. Esports provides a platform for students to showcase their talents, develop critical skills, and forge meaningful connections within the gaming community and beyond. Esports fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie among students, creating a supportive environment for academic and personal growth that young men are yearning for.
As we navigate the evolving landscape of higher education, it’s essential to embrace innovative approaches that cater to the diverse needs and interests of students. Esports represents a promising avenue for empowerment, particularly for men who may face unique challenges in academic settings. Through esports majors, college scholarships, and academic programs, colleges and universities are providing students with opportunities to thrive academically while harnessing esports’ potential to empower the next generation of leaders, innovators, and esports athletes.