by: Amy Vanderhorst, Associate Principal

As an architect having worked on multiple K12 school design projects, I’ve witnessed classroom spaces and modes of instruction transform from a traditional setting to a modern, flexible approach supporting a variety of learners. It is rewarding to be part of ongoing design evolution that complements and enhances changes in educational pedagogy. Subsequently, as a mother of a teenage son who is a video gamer, I have come to recognize technology’s power to enrich education, if used properly. Esports gaming (‘electronic sports’ which has risen to the level of international online competition) is finding its way into learning environments. Video games as a competitive ‘mind sport’ for student education are increasingly topics raised when discussing future school design needs.

The Pew Research Center finds that a majority of teens—97% of boys and 83% of girls—play video games. Esports blend education and gaming, enhancing skills like problem-solving, teamwork, and strategic thinking. This intersection promotes engagement for those less captivated by traditional learning, linking to STEAM fields through its association with data science, coding, and more. Esports fosters exploration, aiding in setting academic goals and uncovering various career paths including game design, programming, and art, among others.

As esports makes its way into the learning arena, school design will require more adaptable and collaborative spaces to accommodate this transformative curriculum. It will change the typology of educational spaces to include high-end tech, electrical, and mechanical services, and require additional funding.

The outcomes supported by esports varies by educational level. In elementary grades, it focuses on puzzle-solving and interactive learning. By middle school, the emphasis shifts to developing strategies, theories, and self-awareness. In high school, esports channels teen emotions into productive outlets, fostering club and tournament participation and preparing students for real-world interactions.

From a learning environment perspective, there are clear needs when designing with esports in mind. MiEN Company, which provides esports furniture, outlines some of the requirements including building dedicated labs with a strategizing zone, a break room, shout casting station, motivating graphics and furnishings, equipment storage and ergonomic furniture.

While the architect in me is convinced esports is both an intellectually and spatially effective tool, the mother in me still needs some convincing. And that’s where I identify with parents across the globe that have expressed their concerns regarding the possibility of esports being addictive and taking away from reality. What if gaming diminishes real-life interactions, curbs curiosity, and limits physical activity? While it offers valuable skills, it may also foster negative emotions like anxiety and frustration in kids. Are they prepared to manage these feelings, and can esports teach them to cope? While these questions are important and deserve further research, moving esports from an extra-curricular activity to one complementing traditional learning seems inevitable and worthwhile.