As of August 2016, the Norwegian Garnes Vidaregåande Skule in Bergen offers esports as a sport in its program. While some colleges in for example the US offer esports scholarships to students, esports as a sport for a state controlled high school is a new phenomenon. 2 Out of the 79 folk high schools in Norway also offer esports in their curriculum, however, those are 1 year boarding schools based on the idea of learning for life, rather than for occupations and degrees.
The other high school that offers esports is the Swedish Arlanda Gymnasiet school in Märsta, who started in 2015 with a limit of 7 students, while in Norway they took in 25. Esports as a subject on high schools is interesting because of the state of mind of an adolescent (self-conscious, insecure, emotional) and the emphasis on teamwork and communication besides physical education. I got in touch with Petter Grahl Johnstad (head science department who made it all happen) to talk about how it’s all turning out.
Which esports games were chosen, Dota, LoL, CS:CO, StarCraft? how many students signed up and who is the teacher?
“We picked CS:GO and LOL for our first year because those were the most requested games. Next year we will also start up with DOTA. We had many applicants, but could only admit about 25 esports students. The teacher is Sindre Rygg, who has a background as a pro gamer.” (Sindre “SvikeN” Rygg is a Norwegian Counter-Strike 1.6 player)
What kind of students signed up for the class. In every school there are loners or students that belong to a group. Did you notice a particular kind of student standing out that signed up for the class? Did students sign up whom you never expected would have. Did any girls sign up as well?
“We have one girl in the LOL class. Except for that there are no clear “type” of student in the esports classes.”
The acceptance of female gamers by men is kind of hard. Losing to a girl seems to be a horrible thing. Is this something you see in your class as well. Does the school stimulate girls to sign up. Do you see a difference in style between boys and girls?
“With only one girl in the class it is hard to generalize. My impression is that she is fitting in well, and that the boys treat her as simply another gamer.”
There’s a discussion going on worldwide whether esports is a sport or not. In your interview with Dotablast, you said that the curriculum for sports programs is formulated in wide enough terms to cover any kind of sports. On what grounds could you introduce esports as a sports specialization, what aspects in esports did you find were of the same value as traditional sports?
“LOL and CS are team games, so skills of cooperation and effective communication are as important here as in traditional team sports. Other than that I believe esports resemble traditional sports such as archery, darts, bowling, and billiards, which are more about precision and eye-hand coordination. Every sport requires technical skills of various kinds, and the skills necessary for success in LOL or CS are not very different from those of other sports in this regard. There are also elements of strategy and the psychological understanding of one’s opponent that are common both to esports and sports such as football.”
Besides having to learn the game and working as a team in every aspect, the school also includes nutrition, lifestyle and physical education as part of course. Do the students understand that having a healthy body stimulates the brain? Have they noticed themselves that their skills are improving because of the physical part of the course?
“I have not asked them, but such understanding is part of the course. In order to do well in the course (and to succeed as pro gamers), they need to understand how these things are all connected.”
Did the overall achievement in other school subjects of the students who took the esports class improve due to the training of their focus?
*”I am afraid it is too early to say, although the students are generally doing fine. I hope over the long run we will get enough data to say with confidence that the skills gained in esports (including an understanding of the importance of nutrition and lifestyle choices) have a positive impact on overall achievement.”
The school team will participate in tournaments as well. What happens with the earnings the school team will make. Will it go to the school, the students or will each get an even part?
“At this point we have not finally decided our policy on this matter. Perhaps some kind of sharing would be best, with a part of the prize money going to an esports account that may be used to fund class excursions to tournaments etc.”
Can a school accept income out of sponsorship by gear companies or game developers being a public school? If so, can the school use that income for other purposes than the gaming course, for instance a social plan for less fortunate students, school trips and so on. In other words, will a good esports program that will attract sponsorship be a means for a school to increase their budget?
“The rules here are complicated, but to some extent sponsorship of the esports class is possible. We have no current plans to use this money for other purposes than the esports class and sponsors usually have a specific idea about what they want their money to be used for.”
Do you work together with the two folk high schools that offer esports as well. For instance, comparing results in focus and overall achievement? Did you set up an inter-school competition yet? If so, who’s leading?
“We are competing with (and beating) these two folk high schools on a regular basis, but there is not yet a formal competition going on. We hope to get this moving forward, but the esports-in-school project is still in its early days.”
The time span for a pro gamer lies around 10 years, starting at a high school age until about 25 years old. If it turns out a student has a lot of potential to become a high level pro gamer he or she will need far more training hours and might decide to quit school. How will you handle that?
“It is a challenge in all kinds of sports that it requires an investment of lots of time and energy, and this sometimes means there is less of a focus on traditional school subjects. We hope that our students will be able to succeed both in esports and at school, partly because they need an education to fall back upon when they reach the end of their pro gaming career in the mid-20s.”
Have you seen significant changes in behavior of the students over the past months. For instance, communication and collaboration between teammates is very important, if you don’t work together, you fail as a team. Did you see a growths or understanding towards different kind of students that might never have happened on the schoolyard?
*”This question should really be answered by our teacher Sindre Rygg, who could describe the extent of our students’ development to you in some detail. I don’t have first-hand knowledge of this, but there is an emphasis in the class on learning to cooperate and function as a team, so of course these abilities are developed by everybody to some extent.”
*The answer to the above questions will be followed up by the school and Sindre Rygg at the end of the schoolyear.