Throughout 2020, esports has been one of the most notable champions amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing policies. The industry has thrived, but it has certainly changed course from its pre-COVID trajectory, and even more so for its application in K-12 and higher education.
When we talk about esports and education, most market activity happens within higher education. This happens both as part of formal vocational engagement through business and event management modules, but also as undergraduate courses with the study of esports as a subject at the fore. It also presents itself informally via student societies, nonprofit league events and through educational integrators. The varying degree against which these elements are emphasized also reveals the regional differences that explain the development of esports within the education segment.
Western Europe and North America as Most Developed Esports Markets
According to Futuresource Consulting’s latest esports report, Western Europe and North America are, at present, the two most mature and developed esports education markets. As of 2020, they account for approximately 60% of global install base of dedicated esports computing hardware. Despite rapid projected growth from the APAC region, these two Western markets are receiving a COVID-related boost, as higher education seeks out new drive factors for student engagement and courses that will attract and retain prospective students. Successful emerging undergraduate courses at both Salford and Chichester University in the U.K. are demonstrating the potential for other universities to formally integrate and produce an esports offering.
The Differing Drive Factors Between APAC and Western Markets
The drive factors for the APAC region are distinct from those in Western markets. In APAC, education integrators play a much greater role as they seek to augment the already existing curriculum using gaming as a tool, rather than having gaming as the subject in and of itself. Organizations such as Code Warriors in India and SCOGA in Singapore are active in this application and focus on K-12 interactions. These partners work directly with schools to demonstrate the educational value of gaming in the classroom and help open up the sector to consider more formal integrations of esports generally.
However, the overwhelming majority of esports market growth within APAC is accounted for by the Chinese market — as a rapidly growing commercial opportunity too. A nationwide study of esports in China published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security found that on average, 81% of those working in the esports industry had salaries approximately three times higher than that of the local average. Alongside this, the study also showed that approximately 15% of those within the industry held an undergraduate university degree or higher. There are clear concerns about whether the educational supply of skilled graduates can presently accommodate the soaring demand of the esports industry, which is continuously soaking up talent and work. This explains why there is a large scale and sustained investment in esports programs and courses, particularly at the Shandong Lanxiang Vocational School, but also at the Beijing Geely University. This will continue following investments in the commercial sector, as well as through China’s growing internet café industry, which takes its lead from South Korea’s similar PC-Bang culture.
Tightened Budgets in LATAM and EMEA in light of COVID-19
The developing world in both LATAM and MEA has been heavily impacted in terms of esports educational investment; this is the result of tightening budgets following each country’s COVID-19 response and a comparatively low level of device penetration within the classroom. This does not mean that it has stalled however, as the focus point will move away from desktops and mobile-PCs, pivoting towards smartphone usage. This is already popular in these markets in the commercial sector and will account for the main method of interaction for gamers generally to interact with esports. Smartphone usage drastically cuts the entry cost for consumers to engage with esports and presents a simple, quick way to setup an esports enabled classroom environment.
Around the world every market is embracing esports with variance according to the particularities of digital infrastructure and labour market qualities related to local conditions. Some markets are emphasizing higher education integration, particularly in markets where esports is established as a mature commercial industry, while others are using it as a tool for augmented learning outcomes and engaging students that otherwise struggle to remain invested in education. The integration of esports into the education segment will also include a wide range of devices, from smartphones and high-powered workstation desktops through to mid-range PCs for less competitive gaming.