As the digital world continues to evolve today, the landscape of sports as we know it is also changing. As more and more people venture into esports, so does the educational field start getting into it, too. Here in the Philippines, the University of Visayas New School made headlines for opening up a course dedicated to esports. We’ll see in this article what all the fuss is all about, and how the esports scene is changing the way universities and schools all over the world treat video games.

Last month, University of Visayas New School made various headlines when they announced that they are going to offer esports and game development courses in their Senior High Arts and Design Track starting August this year. UVNS, located in Mandaue, is one of the eight campuses of the University of Visayas, the first ever university in the province of Cebu.

We reached out to UVNS’s founder and director, Mr. Genesis Raña, to talk about their vision in starting this endeavor, the first ever in the Philippines.

He grew up playing Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, Contra and Battle City, during the heyday of the Family Computer and arcade machines. Back in the day, he says he would skip lunch and order half rice and soup with his friend to be able to spend their allowance on playing PC and Console games. He cites Herzog Zwei and Street Fighter to be his favorite games, and later on he introduced the world of gaming to his own son and played PS2 and PC games with him under his supervision. He says that although he didn’t get to enjoy Dota- as by then he had been too busy with design work and taking care of the school- he does get the hype that people are getting from playing and watching the popular game.

“Esports is fun. It’s exciting. It does not require extraordinary physical assets and this is a field where we Pinoys can dominate,” says Mr Raña, “The gaming industry is growing exponentially. It opens up a lot of opportunities for Graphic Designers, Game Developers and Designers, Artists, Analysts, Video Producers, Musicians, Shoutcasters, and Entrepreneurs.”

The University of Visayas New School

UVNS describes their approach as an educational revolution. Through their colorful classrooms and open layout, they foster creativity and collaboration between students. Partnering with foundations such as Aboitiz and Apple, UVNS’s work space does brighten up the mood in their facilities.

“Our curriculum is designed to emulate a professional environment, together with tight deadlines and rigorous work,” says Mr. Raña, “High performing students get to work on ‘real’ paid projects. We don’t have a numerical grading system but we require them to have a professional grade portfolio as a requirement to graduation. Only the best graduate.”

Starting this year, the school will be offering for the first time their innovative programs in Senior High Arts & Design and Information Communication Technology (ICT) tracks, which will be including the Game Design and Development and Esports program.

The Esports Program

The Game Design and Development and Esports program will revolve around the environment created by Mr. Raña, which he calls an “Ecosystem”. Featuring a League based on Lapu-Lapu City, it aims to gravitate towards it local talents in the realm of esports, to be molded into future professional players if they have the skill and talent to back them up. Aside from playing Dota, the course will also include many hours of training and coaching from “dedicated educators and industry insiders.”

“We are working with DTI, DICT, DepEd and Parents, Student Organizations, and the Local Government of Lapulapu City to build an ecosystem that is adaptive and for lack of a better term, innovative,” says Mr. Raña. “If we have all of these institutions working together for the students – how can they not succeed?”

In designing the ecosystem, Mr. Raña said that the current educational systems are dogmatic and conservative, and have originally designed for the industrial revolution for the late 1800’s.

“Gamifying education makes learning more efficient because there is the element of fun and excitement offset with the bitter feeling of defeat – which makes it very personal for the student.”

But he doesn’t claim that the old school method of education does not work, but this system is just another way to approach the way we educate our youth.

As such, the ecosystem would not be complete if it will only feature those who play the game. Thus, the program was also designed to cater not only for prospective esports players but also to the people who play support roles in the realm of esports. The curriculum was designed in a way that students who find themselves not capable of delving into the competitive scene as players would still be well-equipped with the fundamental skills they’d need to apply for other careers in esports.

“Not all of them have to be players, you can still be in the industry as a graphic designer, game developer, game designer, animator, caster, marketer, videographers, coaches, team managers etc. By exposing the students to other skills aside from playing, this will broaden their options and skillset – in case they don’t make it as players or they discover for themselves that were not meant to be players after all and there are a lot of careers available in E-sports that are just as exciting.”

Therefore, the students will be shown the options that they have through the curriculum, exploring the different career paths they could take and be able to learn the necessary skills they’d need to be able to contribute to the esports scene through auxiliary and administrative roles. But the focus here is not in securing a job or filling in the needs of the market, says Mr. Raña.

“We have this mindset – I take this course and there be a job for me – the market dictates that not the program or even the school. We are not here just for people who want a job, we are here for people who want a fulfilling life. A well-played life.”

Casting doubts on the curriculum

Many skeptics have expressed their doubts on the effectiveness of the curriculum, and have worried that the school might just be another school that is trying to ride the esports hype without understanding what really is needed in the industry. Primary among their concerns is the apparent mix-up in the curriculum’s topics, that game development and game design are ultimately different courses, and that a lot of the given topics and skills in the ecosystem are by themselves their very own tracks as well, making the ecosystem seem too spread out and vague.

Asked about what he has to say to their school’s skeptics, he says:

“I have only one word for the skeptics and critics – iteration. Bruce Lee said it best. ‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own’. I think that is sound advice for all the aspiring players too.”

Esports Education around the world

Of course, integrating esports into schools and universities is not something new. We have UVNS’s unique curriculum as a first in the country and the world, but even Ivy League schools have long recognized the value of esports in the well-being and development of their students. The University of California, Irvine in the United States, for example, have a PC café on campus, sponsored by Garena, for the school’s distinction as being the very first public school to have their own League of Legends esports scholarship program. Meanwhile, the Garnes Vidaregaande Skule in Norway have esports integrated in their core curriculum since August 2016, which entails that their high school students would have to study about esports five hours a week. To help them in their studies, the students enrolled in this curriculum are provided with Nvidia GeForce GTX 980Ti video cards. The Arlanda Gymnasiet School in Sweden, on the other hand, offers an esports program for their students who are currently taking one of their national programs to help supplement their passion in esports with a career track that fits their primary degree program.

These liberal takes on esports help the industry gain more recognition in the mainstream world. It is indeed important for educational institutions to start recognizing that esports is worth investing their efforts in. More and more career opportunities are opening up in the esports world, and there should be feet to fill the shoes.

Esports in the Philippines

As esports continue to become recognized as a legitimate sport, with professional leagues sporting large audiences and prize pools, with unprecedented viewership, traditional companies are starting to notice as well, and are considering to delve into esports and invest in the future of digital entertainment.

Collegiate leagues in the Philippines also continues to grow along the local esports scene. The National Cyber Collegiate League organized by Mineski back in 2012 was the first ever collegiate esports league in the Philippines. The NCCL proved that there is indeed a market for esports in the collegiate level, both as a crowd and as a playerbase. The League of Legends Collegiate League by Garena continues to grow, pitting the top universities of the country against each other in a battle for glory and school pride. The LCL will be bringing in a lot more this coming season for the LoL players out there that are still in schools, so you better watch out.

But the greatest challenge of it all is making these esports leagues recognized by the schools themselves, which Garena also aims to resolve. Thus far, esports leagues in the collegiate level have been organized independently by different organizations, without the backing or patronage of the universities the participating students represent. In approaching this problem, student organizations that are focused on esports should be formed in these schools to lobby for the recognition of their esports athletes and of the esports industry itself. That is what the University of the Philippines Gaming Guild aims to do with their flagship tournament, Impetus 2017, the first-ever student-organized intercollegiate esports league in the country. In forming their own tournament, which will culminate to a grand finals pitting the eight UAAP schools against each other on June 24-25, UPGG aims to encourage other students from the other UAAP schools to form their own esports student organizations and help out in establishing a consistent and recurring esports league for students, by the students. In the future, the organizers of the tournament hope to convince the respective school authorities to recognize their very own esports athletes and give them the recognition and support that they deserve, elevating them to the same level as their fellow traditional sports athletes.