Embracing Esports for Increasing Student Learning and Campus Engagement

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Listen and learn : Research paper
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Research papers are a pairing of two 20 minute presentations followed by a 5 minute Q & A.
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Dr. Julie Delello  
Dr. Rochell McWhorter  

Learn how researchers gathered insights from students around the world regarding their esports habits. Discover how the data helped to create an esports presence on a higher education campus to improve student engagement and achievement, increase scholarly student and faculty research, and foster community relationships.

Audience: Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Games for learning & gamification
Grade level: Community college/university
Subject area: Higher education
ISTE Standards: For Education Leaders:
Visionary Planner
  • Share lessons learned, best practices, challenges and the impact of learning with technology with other education leaders who want to learn from this work.
Systems Designer
  • Ensure that resources for supporting the effective use of technology for learning are sufficient and scalable to meet future demand.
For Educators:
  • Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.

Proposal summary


There are millions of viewers and eSports players globally; there are hundreds of colleges and universities who are members of the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE) in the United States. In fact, eSports is one of the fastest growing sports on college campuses as students are both spectators as well as players. According to McGrath (2019), eSports has been a burgeoning “phenomenon over the past decade with about 1600 eSports clubs across 600 universities, and experts predict these numbers will continue to rise…[and expand] into elementary, middle, and high schools across the nation” (p. 201). As the understanding of eSports deepens, the effects of video gaming need to be reexamined and the benefits of playing such games explored (Cain, Landau, & Shimamura, 2012). This research will look at eSports from the perspective of student motivation and engagement. According to Bánya et al (2019), the exploration of the motivational patterns of eSports use is of utmost importance to study.


To further scientific and technological cooperation, an interdisciplinary research team from the United States and Italy collaborated on a mixed-methods research study to share interests and promote progress on the cutting-edge technology of electronic sports (eSports).

To this end, the first stage of the research consisted of gathering insights from students globally regarding their eSports habits. The team used an online survey, which had both closed and open-ended questions to compare student demographics, types of games watched or played, the amount of time played, grade point averages, risks, and personal and academic benefits to playing such games. This survey was approved by the Institutional Review Board and piloted by faculty and university students prior to the IRB. The survey was created in the online program Qualtrics and a link was generated to the survey. This link was posted on a recruitment flyer, translated in both English and Italian and posted to social media gaming sites (e.g. Twitter, Twitch, Facebook) and also shared by two universities in the U.S. and Italy. Students were also asked to share it with their friends and gaming networks. Specifically, the team wanted to identify whether students, over the age of 18, who are involved in eSports are more successful, motivated, and engaged in their academic life. Furthermore, the aim from this research was to start a pilot eSports program, that eventually grows into a varsity eSports team on one higher education campus.


Currently, the research team has collected over 500 global responses from students who play eSports. Approximately 50% of those responses are from the United States. This data will be analyzed and looked at within and across countries (multi-case study) to share with those at ISTE 2021.

Furthermore, to better understand how a university eSports team will enhance student life, foster teamwork, and increase collaboration and communication among our students, the interdisciplinary team will pilot an eSports arena on one campus in January of 2021. The team will create an updated survey and collect data from students enrolled in the eSports campus initiative. This additional survey will include items such as demographics, habits, perceptions of the initiative, health related information such as sleep and exercise habits; attendance records, tournament data, and grade point averages will be collected. Additional focus groups with the eSports team and those involved in the pilot program will be collected to help evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the initiative in order to make the needed adjustments going forward. Also, this will further enhance the university infrastructure for research and education. We hope to have our preliminary lessons learned from this second set of data by the summer of 2021.

We anticipate finding that eSports motivates students, increases student enrollment and retention, and increases interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations with students and faculty. Bringing an eSports team to the university will impact the university and community in several ways. For example, we have the opportunity to engage with underrepresented groups, as well as to recruit and support minority students, and both graduate and undergraduate research students. We can connect in broader ways with our community and alumni.


There is currently a dearth of research on eSports as there has been some opposition to gaming on campuses in the past. However, "much of the resistance in bringing eSports teams to education is due to the lack of awareness and lack of understanding of how a video game competition can foster the skills desired in tomorrow′s society” (Rothwell & Shaffer, 2019). Reitman, Anderson-Coto, Wu, Lee, and Steinkuehler (2020) reviewed available published literature and noted that "eSports research has developed from nonexistent to a field of study spread across seven academic disciplines" (p. 1) including business, sports science, cognitive science, informatics, law, media studies, and sociology and is not confined to only a few localities but reported that the internationality of eSports is now a reality . This research has intellectual merit in that it is an emerging field with vast potential to advance knowledge for K-12 as well as higher education institutions to consider.


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Dr. Julie Delello, The University of Texas at Tyler
Dr. Rochell McWhorter, The University of Texas at Tyler
Dr. Tonia DE GIUSEPPE, University of Salerno

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