Next stop! Cloud9?

For those die-hards that still read this blog, you may have gathered by now that my advocacy for video games is not primarily about taking what’s good about games and trying to squeeze the essence into educational agendas. For those who took (and may well be still taking) the Master’s course at CSU, I was always keen to provoke the idea that video games are an entirely valid media (text) in their own right — and that this has a place in the world of education, especially for children.

E-Sports is a very real phenomenon which is growing quickly and appeals to a global audience. For example, more than 360 million unique viewers watched this year’s League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational. It’s an extremely strategic game which is perhaps a frenetic form of Chess. During the event, fans contributed $2.6 million to the prize pool, totaling it to $4,946,970. The idea that a prize pool can be added to by fans is yet another remediation of the very idea of a competitive tournament. To put that in perspective, this audience was bigger than the Super Bowl or NBA. It’s almost pointless to compare any Australian sports viewing figures. Over 4 million Australians watch E-Sports which is pretty impressive. So why are schools not interested in competitive E-Sports? Why are they content to build forts in Minecraft or simply ignore this massive opportunity.

Someone said on a clip I watched recently …

“unlike the Javelin, which isn’t going to change much, E-Sports players are faced with not only playing at the highest, super competitive level but must also master the ever-changing technology that powers it”

Game developers are forever changing ‘meta’. Unlike traditional sport, this ensures no player can afford to develop a narrow skill set, nor can a team such as Cloud9 keep winning if the team doesn’t adapt. Of course, the audience loves this. As players, they also have to change their own play style and look to pro-gamers and streamers for the best insights in how to do it. With limited hours, most teens become very adept at finding the best sources to give them tips — which makes pro-players international celebrities.

Just like any traditional sport, opinions and arguments about who is the best player at any game stack out the various community forums. Some players are ‘flex’ and will play a number of heroes while others main just one. Again, this means is a departure from much of the singlemindedness associated with the professional sports arena. Pro-gamers make and generate a lot of money. With 5 or 6 player team configurations, getting a place in a pro-team is ultra-competitive, as there are literally millions of gamers who want their place. Compare this to traditional sport for a second. As players get older, the number who can ‘make it’ tapers off significantly. Unless they are top-tier, they can’t make the big dollars. In a bedroom near me, I have a Top 500 Overwatch player who can stream and gather a few hundred viewers willing to ‘tip’ or subscribe. Not all players stream, but even if you’re not in Cloud9, there is a very real potential to make significant money at an early age, simply being good at the game and knowing how to use the kind of media that schools spend vast amounts of energy banning and pretending are ‘bad’.

I’ve always though how utterly rediculous it is that Australian schools do nothing to help kids be the best gamer they can. While me moan that they are not doing homework or watching Fornite videos – what many teacher fail to understand is that they are watching kids – just like them.

So while schools have droned on about Minecraft, I’m going to argue few of these Minecraft Teachers understand the next level – Fortnite. The point is that millions of kids have been building Minecraft and Unturned servers for years. I know my kids had one almost ten years ago. I watched my Top 500 kid drop into Fortnite to play with his brother. I think it took only a handful of games before he was building. He’s already a dead-shot Widowmaker and while he (at 17) thinks Fortnite is for squeekers, he will occasionally play with his sister and brother in a 4 man. All the time, he’s outplaying them – while carrying them they are learning from him, just by watching his strategies.

Last year, I took him to the Overwatch Word Cup in Sydney. Of course it was amazing and of course he knew everything about the players and streamers that were knocking about. It’s a vast knowledge of gaming and gaming culture, which is simply ignored by his school. After all, wasting time playing video games means you’ll fail school. I think that is the saddest thing any teacher can believe. It’s also the push-back I’ve had from teachers when I ask them to talk about gaming beyond Minecraft. But there are some teachers and schools playing E-Sports, but it’s very few and as usual, an additional class outside of school. Interestingly, those who are advocating E-Sports are not concerned about meshing League of Legends with History class. They are see games for what they are – a genuine career path that requires kids to develop extra-ordinary skill and understanding – which academics such as James Gee has been telling us for decades – can happen.

I don’t get it. The facts are obvious, the growth is exponential – and Australia doesn’t suck at gaming or game development. So why are we not encouraging 13 year olds to be amazing at Fortnite?

Well, for one thing, the pathway to pro-gamer mostly happens after they have left school, so there’s little ‘cudos’ for the teacher who’s busy building forts in Minecraft in year 6. Teachers also lack the language needed to have a conversation about games with kids. Terms such as flex, DPS, skrim, SR are deeply encoded in world of gaming. They don’t watch Twitch, they don’t follow pro-gamers on Twitter or make the effort to reach out to Shout Casters to find out what is actually happening. I asked @ubershouts a few things about turning pro, as Mr Top 500 was killing it on the Xbox. “Get a PC and make the leap” he said “then get him playing skrims”. It too him almost a year to re-learn how to be as good as he was on the Xbox – on PC. He also had to ditch most the people he’d been playing with on console to focus on improving. He still plays console for fun, but is mooching about in the PC realms looking for games and making connections – aka – wasting time on video games.

So there here we are: at the edge of building an E-Sport reality. I’m sure the ‘education’ needed is not about games, but about the career pathways that games lead to. The kids know it, but it’s the adults we have to still win over I guess.