Ready player one: Orange County High School Esports League to debut this week

Thirty-seven teams from 25 local high schools have signed on to be a part of the new Orange County High School Esports League, which begins its inaugural season on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

Students will compete in weekly matchups for eight weeks, leading up to the finals in April. Matches will be streamed live on, and the championships will be played at the Santa Ana Esports Arena. Ongoing tournament results will be posted at

As we first shared in November, the new league was created to link students’ interest in online video games with science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Yet organizers also see opportunities to integrate English language arts and social emotional learning.

students gather around computer monitors to play video games

“The idea for the Esports League came from key STEM educators who said, ‘If kids are spending this much time on games outside of school, what could be accomplished if we connect academic content with their gameplay?’” says Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares. “It’s an incredible opportunity to build on existing interest while introducing them to 21st-century skills and careers.”

Action, strategy and education

The inaugural season will be based on Riot Games’ League of Legends, which combines action and strategy. Competing players will be selected for each club, but all members will provide support, including maintaining statistical records, analyzing gameplay and coming up with strategies for improvement.

Each of the 37 clubs will be advised by a teacher serving as an on-campus manager, and educational concepts will be weaved into weekly team meetings and practices. These include lessons on health and nutrition, the biomechanics of gaming, online societies, computer hardware, game data, managing people and resources, and professional communication. Weekend workshops, which will be open to all students, will offer deeper dives into specific STEM and social emotional themes.

‘An academic framework’

The Orange County High School Esports is being led by the Samueli Foundation in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education, OC STEM, Connected Camps, the UCI Connected Learning Lab, UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, UCI Esports, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI, and the firm Alvarez & Marsal.

Constance Steinkuehler, professor of informatics at UC Irvine, has been tapped to lead curriculum development and related research.

“The league has been carefully constructed with an academic framework incorporating STEM, ELA (English language arts) and social emotional learning, as well as Career Technical Education,” Steinkuehler says. “It’s relevant, forward leaning, and tied to future careers both inside and outside the tech industry.”

The future workforce

Organizers point to a decade of research on the benefits of using games and technology for learning. However, they also note that esports is based on commercial games that weren’t designed specifically for learning.

Through the Orange County league’s inaugural season, Steinkuehler and her team from UCI plan to evaluate existing and potential alignments between organized esports and school subjects, as well as social emotional learning. A full high school curriculum centered on esports is also under development.

“Online platforms like esports are the new social gathering places for kids,” says Gerald Solomon, the Samueli Foundation’s executive director. “We believe the platform can be leveraged for an even greater benefit, to help them grow their STEM interests and develop valued skills that will be needed for success in the future workforce.”