It would plain shortsightedness to dismiss education and Esports as two distinct activities. Image Credit: Supplied

Why is gaming so profound? Esports is undoubtedly a natural fit for the Middle East, where the majority of the population is young and internet-savvy. With around 70 per cent of the country’s population under 30 years in Saudi Arabia and approximately 20 million gamers or gaming enthusiasts, it is onwards and upwards for Esports in the country.

The same can be said about the UAE, where the gaming industry proliferates, with rising interest and investment in locally developing homegrown talent and games. It is expected that the average gamer in the country spends $115 per year.

It is important to note, that as with most industries, the COVID-19 crisis has redefined processes and sparked the arrival of necessary precautions. During this period, gaming had also continued to emerge as one of the most popular activities as the medium was a convenient way to spend time during initial stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and social distancing.

Stayed on after the pandemic

With many of this region’s industries recovering at a faster pace than in the rest of the world, various institutions have also further explored capitalising on the growth of gaming by focusing on developing mass participation. They have invested heavily in their digital capabilities and undoubtedly, the industry has continued to flourish as it began to feature millions of fans, generating sold-out arenas, gaining sponsorships from world-class global brands and more.

Of course, games are fun and engaging. Like the spread of technology, Esports spans every corner of the world and has become a multi-billion-dollar industry employing not only gamers, but commentators, analysts, production crew, event organizers and so on. But gaming is not merely headline-grabbing characters or graphic-fighting scenes. In fact, gaming recruits sophisticated forms of thinking, including the understanding of immersive digital worlds, the working of complex systems and interactive simulations.

Within the educational sphere, gaming and Esports can function as a medium for students to explore and master a new skillset, which will eventually translate into ideas and identities. With gaming presenting a polished and powerful learning experiences to students, Esports has since brought the notion of learning through playing to life.

Sync with learning

As it becomes increasingly evident that employers and universities are seeking students who stand out with branded industry experience, schools in the region have since worked to create a calibre of students that stand-out with relevant skills and broader qualities that cannot be learned in books. Some steps taken by schools include launching incubator programs to support innovative business ideas of students, offering specialized International BTEC courses in Esports and Creative Media – Game Design and launching dedicated Esports zones.

Creating an Esports program that meets the many needs of students and schools can represent a complex challenge, especially in a world where sitting in rows of chairs, facing forward and fixed on the main speaker has been a societal norm for thousands of years. However, the benefits of Esports through the educational lens remain vast and include; character development, community building, STEM engagement and recruitment among others.

The question remains – if we do not embrace these technologies, do we risk creating a new equity gap?