Inaugural Esports League aims to boost STEM skills among OC high school students

A new league is set to debut in Orange County that will allow competitors to cast spells, collect gold and slay monsters.

The Orange County High School Esports League, launching in January, is aimed at connecting students’ interest in video games with the rapidly growing industry. At the same time, students will develop skills in problem-solving, teamwork and sportsmanship.

students smiling while sitting at a row of computers playing an online video game

The competition is open to all public and private high schools in Orange County. Registration runs now through Dec. 11.

Teams of students will face off in the popular multiplayer online game League of Legends.

The program is a collaboration funded by the Samueli Foundation in partnership with OCDE, Orange County STEM Initiative, Connected Camps, UCI Connected Learning Lab, UCI Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, UCI Esports, UCI Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Alvarez & Marsal.

Gerald Solomon, executive director of the Samueli Foundation, said the Esports League was created to promote science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, using online gaming.

“We hope to turn this into a STEM learning and enrichment program that will help students grow their STEM interests and skillsets. These will be needed for success in the future workforce,” he said.

“Online platforms like Esports are the new social gathering places for kids,” he said. “We need to understand these new digital platforms, like gaming, and innovate ways to optimize kids’ learning experiences.”

League of Legends is a team-oriented strategy game set in mystical forests where competitors select avatars with unique fighting skills. These characters range from sword-wielding warriors to sorcerers that cast spells on opponents. Competitors earn gold when they defeat enemies that they can use to boost their avatars’ abilities.

Student with baseball cap smiling and typing on a computer game

League of Legends, or LoL as it’s known in the gaming community, has more than 100 million monthly active users. The 2016 League of Legends World Championship in Los Angeles drew an estimated 41 million viewers worldwide.

Through the Orange County high school competition, a $1,000 stipend and training will be provided for high school faculty advisors. Team members must have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and meet other requirements. There’s no cost for teams to compete, although each campus would be responsible for the computers needed for students to play. Prizes will be awarded to the top teams, with the semifinals and finals taking place April 29, 2018.

“I have been around many innovative movements in education and this one has gained the most interest in the shortest amount of time,” said Tom Turner, director of STEM at OCDE.

“The ideal vision is to marry Esports with STEM learning. There is definite crossover, and turning that into a student-centered learning experience that will enhance 21st-century STEM skills would be very exciting.”

A team of UC Irvine researchers will evaluate the inaugural Esports League to determine program strengths and weaknesses as well as its educational and teamwork benefits for participating students.

In 2010, UC Irvine began offering a computer game science major as part of an effort to meet the growing demand for workers in the video game industry, which now generates more revenue than the film and music industries.

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