Wilmington Academy in Dartford among the first schools in the country to offer a new BTEC Esports competitive gaming qualification

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A secondary school has taken hands-on learning to the next level after putting gaming on the curriculum and investing thousands of pounds in a new ‘esports arena’.

Video games are rapidly moving out of teenage bedrooms and into classrooms as educators leverage the competitive and entrepreneurial advantages of esports.

Wilmington Academy alumnus Amber Gleed explains what Esports is

The days when parents can claim that the extra hours their child puts in on a screen are fruitless and will never lead to a job are numbered.

The meteoric rise of Esports – the competitive video game – has opened up an endless number of new careers ranging from professional athletes to “shoutcasters” – broadcasters who provide live commentary on matches broadcast on Twitch and Youtube.

It has also been linked to skills that are in high demand in the digital job market – including data analysis and video production – as well as more conventional communication and teamwork skills.

As a burgeoning billion-pound industry with teams already embraced by Manchester City and Paris St Germain, it is now too big for schools and colleges to ignore.

During the pandemic, UK education provider Pearson has partnered with the British Esports Association to design a BTEC Level 3 qualification – the first such qualification in the world.

The Leigh Academy Trust has invested heavily in new IT and esports equipment at Wilmington Academy. Photo: Sean Delaney

Wilmington Academy in Dartford, which is among the first group of schools across the country to offer its students the opportunity to study it as a subject, is ahead of the curve.

The qualification covers a wide range of knowledge and skills required to work in and around the industry, including video production, game design and launching a business, as well as game skills and analysis Esports.

The Leigh Academies Trust has supported the coeducational school with sums in excess of £25,000 alongside generous local sponsors.

Its funds have helped convert a former classroom space on its Common Lane site into an “Esports Arena” complete with state-of-the-art gaming gear, equipment and its own sportswear merchandise.

Explaining the rationale for the project, Director Michael Gore said: “We did a lot of research on job opportunities and career opportunities and found a bit of a niche in the market where Esports was the one of the most profitable careers for students when they leave school.

“Overall it’s a huge market and we wanted to make sure our students had the skills and could manage those skills effectively and have apprenticeships.”

The school has invested in a very different classroom experience.  Photo: Sean Delaney
The school has invested in a very different classroom experience. Photo: Sean Delaney

The first cohort of pupils after 16 began the course in September, but there are already plans to expand it from the current enrollment of 12 to 30 over the next school year to meet demand.

“The turnout and interest has been quite prolific, I would say,” Mr. Gore added. “The indicative numbers to go into a post-16 Esports topic have really increased and so we have invested in that future and we believe our numbers will increase year on year.”

The director also answered a question likely to be asked by many parents: “Are my children playing video games when they should be learning?”

“There’s a tremendous amount of team building that actually happens digitally,” he explained. “They play with teams all over the world, communicate with them, improve their electronic skills.”

Previously, Mr Gore said, it was seen as “a fairly isolated situation” where people played alone – but that is no longer the case. “Esports is a vast web of opportunity and communication in the future,” he added.

The new Esports Arena and Qualifier builds on the progress already made by the school which has teams competing across the UK – including one of the first all-female, non-binary teams.

The school has set up its own team and now competes with others across the country.  Photo: Sean Delaney
The school has set up its own team and now competes with others across the country. Photo: Sean Delaney

The hands-on lessons focus on popular games Overwatch, Rocket League and League of Legends – a team-based strategy game where two teams of five compete to destroy each other’s base.

Esports teacher James Marriott says the games are a far cry from those he played as a teenager.

But he believes the transferable business skills of data analysis and problem solving developed in the course will give students a competitive edge in the job market or in graduate school or college.

Mr Marriott said: “I think it was an opportunity that we kind of stumbled upon. It was something I was keen on doing.

“I hadn’t realized there weren’t so many in Kent who weren’t doing it, especially in secondary schools. There’s a lot of colleges, I think, North West Kent College and a few others.

“But we run it as BTEC and run the Esports teams, ahead of the curve, I think we got a bit lucky, so I’m happy with that.”

Director of esports at Wilmington Academy, James Marriott, believes the school is getting a head start in embracing the new qualification.  Photo: Sean Delaney
Director of esports at Wilmington Academy, James Marriott, believes the school is getting a head start in embracing the new qualification. Photo: Sean Delaney

It’s also been kind of a learning experience for the head of the creative media department himself, who thinks it’s already changed the dynamics of the class and made it a more collaborative learning experience for everyone.

Mr Marriott added: “It works really well and it’s just amazing to watch.

“It’s great, I think that will be the way to go and other schools will come, and as part of the Leigh Academy Trust, if we can be the leader in this area, that’s great for us. .”

The professional game continues to go from strength to strength with international competitions offering huge prizes.

It is hoped Wilmington alumni will return once they complete the program to pass on the baton and “inspire the next generation of Esports and digital learners”.

Ex-student Amber Gleed, who leads one of the school’s co-ed teams, is among those sharing her skills and knowledge.

From left to right: Amber Gleed, Aaron Watkins, Poppie Foard.  Photo: Sean Delaney
From left to right: Amber Gleed, Aaron Watkins, Poppie Foard. Photo: Sean Delaney

“Communication would be the most important thing,” the 18-year-old explained. “In a game with six other people you’re on a team with, you just have to talk to them.

“As the head captain and coach of the Overwatch team, that was the thing I had to get everyone working on.

“I’m still breaking through it, but it’s like now we’ve started doing it and we’re communicating it more, obviously it shows a lot more.

“I just want to know how to communicate properly in a team of only five to six other people, it’s a useful thing.”

It’s also something the ex-student says will help her and her former classmates in the near future.

“You have to have the confidence to say the right things at the right time,” she added.

New equipment was provided with the help of sponsors.  Photo: Sean Delaney
New equipment was provided with the help of sponsors. Photo: Sean Delaney

“Having clear communication now, working on it and developing it just helps that later.”

It’s not just about competing either. Some of the other students hoping to enroll in the brand new BTEC Esports are eyeing other careers in the industry.

Poppie Foard, 16, said: “You could have a career in streaming just by playing games with other people who watch and make money that way.”

When asked what her favorite aspect was, she replied, “It’s really great to work as a team. We all started talking to each other more.”

Fellow student and teammate Aaron Watkins also took an interest in the technical and business side of the sport.

The 15-year-old can see himself working in hosting such events in the future – a lucrative market with League of Legends championship competitions attracting bigger online audiences than the US Superbowl.

On what sets esports apart from traditional gaming, Aaron added, “It’s basically the feeling of doing something other than for yourself.

“There’s a reason you actually play. It makes you want to train more and more.”

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