I have followed for some time a handful of initiatives around the world concerning esports in education. Many of these initiatives are based around the commercial game League of Legends. The professional competitive leagues for League of Legends are considered the most popular in the world and it stands to reason that this game might be a focus for esports in schools. Riot Games has certainly been working to break into the high school educational arena in Australia and I consider their resources for supporting sportsmanship are a very well considered step in the right direction.
With this in mind, I chose to attend the session "Esports and the Learn with League initiative" presented by Ivan Davies at the ACMI Education in Games Summit in late October. I was thinking I would hear more about esports initiatives and what the trajectory was for educational involvement within Australia. I was attending with some pre-conceived notions of what the session would be about and that it would, at least in some part, be marketing for LOL (League of Legends).
In actuality, the session was far more meta than I had conceived and took us back to the fundamentals of play, team cohesion, rule-based systems, strategizing and competition. We entered into a large physical play space and were placed in two teams. There were only two initial rules outlined for our play and we quickly jumped into the experience. This was a totally welcomed change in pace from the sessions we had attended during the day and it circumvented that post lunch slump that we all face at such events. We were to play three rounds of the game, with a break for Ivan to facilitate a discussion of what had occurred and the thinking behind it.
After the first round, we discussed rules, both those explicitly given to us and those that were implied or surfaced for each of us from similar physical play experiences. In our second round each team could strategize for few minutes before play. The discussion was lively with some people standing out as leaders. In my team we created a strategy but soon realized that we were play to hamper our opponents rather than the strengthen our own play but went on to test it anyway. In the third round we again gathered to strategize and reflection our performance and rules were once again slightly refined. We went on to play a different game in three short rounds and were encouraged to innovate in our strategies, by setting aspirational goals for our play and questioning the rules that were actually in play, implied or assumed.
The session was fast paced, with bursts of play interspersed with team planning and reflection. With each round of play there was not only discourse but a refinement of the rules based on what was observed. We were asked to consider what could be learned from our experiences. Each team took over a whiteboard and between play sessions recorded what activities and skills were either observed or were developing.
As you can see from the photo of our team’s whiteboard notes, this was truly a meta experience that within a very quick period of play had surfaced much of what we as educators aspire to as 21st century skills or considerations for learning as individuals or in teams.
What did I make of this session? It certainly was not what I had anticipated. There was very little mention of League of Legends other than a projection on the screen behind Ivan during the session. Yet it related so much to what I know of esports and competition without actually going online or playing League.
I am a huge fan of Jim Gee’s concept of the “Big G game”. The “small g” is the media, the game itself, it rules, its play and in-game interaction. The “Big G” is all that surrounds play, the thinking, strategising, discourse and relationships the game engenders. This is very important for games in education because much of the transformative value for us stems from time spent outside the actual field of play. This session was a perfect example of that value. The games and the variations on play were engaging and fun but the powerful learning lay in the team discussion and strategising. We were not just holding discussion to improve our prospects for winning but also to reflect on team effectiveness and map the types of skills we were developing throughout the activity. We learned a lot about each other in terms of what types of players we each were and who readily stepped into leadership roles to make the next play strategy. We were learning from each other and the fast paced, low stakes nature of the activities meant we were open to ready cooperation and quite radical experimentation (within the rules of course ;-) ) If a proposed strategy didn’t fly we regrouped for the next round and others stepped in to lead the next moves. It seemed a fluid and egalitarian process was at play. As our final whiteboard mindmap shows we were experiencing first hand so much more than just how to win at this particular game.
A word about facilitation … Ivan managed the play experience and guided us through our team discussions and reflection. This was not just about setting out a game and letting the players have at it. It was a reveal of ideas and layers over what seemed a very simple physical play experience. And goes to the heart of a teacher’s role in leveraging any game experience in the classroom. For me the gold standard, as this play experience was, involves a professional educator guiding, inviting and prodding the experience into the Big G zone.
We were to learn that this play experience is part of a program to be offered to schools as part of Riot Games’ efforts to encourage a deep and reflective experience of competitive play. It certainly did engender intense dialogue, experimentation and reflection for our team. I heard people say how much they enjoyed and took from it, with teachers saying they were taking the actual games back to play in their schools! So this was esports without the “e” and it seemed to light a spark in many of those who attended.
Find out more about the Learn With League initiative here.
Dr. Bron Stuckey is a Sydney based Educational Consultant and Games, Learning and Community.