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March 29, 2023
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 min read

Esports Isn’t STEM (And That’s Okay)

Valhallan Founder & CEO David Graham posits an even more valuable advantage for video game players.

Esports Isn’t STEM (And That’s Okay)

Valhallan Founder & CEO David Graham posits an even more valuable advantage for video game players.

I have always been a nerdy programmer who loves gaming. I even found my passion in building one of the largest STEM-related companies in the world. Without a doubt, I understand the need for better STEM education. I just don't think it's going to be found in esports.

It’s near blasphemy these days for an organization geared toward kids to actively avoid the notorious STEM label. But for me, the STEM claim feels like a reach.

Marketing a product or program as STEM makes parents feel better about their kids participating — especially in a historically maligned pastime like playing video games. But at best, it’s a stretch; at worst, it’s disingenuous. As a lifelong gamer and parent, I can personally attest to the value of playing video games that have nothing to do with science, technology, engineering, or math.

Hear me out, and I think I can convince you that esports is valuable without that STEM label.

Software & Computers ≠ STEM

Esports is a field that is more closely related to entertainment and media than it is to STEM. While there is certainly overlap between esports and STEM fields, such as the use of technology and software, this does not make esports a STEM field.

Esports requires a lot of skill and strategy, but learning those skills as they apply to win video games doesn’t automatically apply to the real world. Pretending that learning a map in a game is equivalent to giving real-life directions is easily proven wrong.  (As I found out last week when my 16-year-old gamer couldn’t give me directions out of our neighborhood that he’s lived in his entire life.)

Soft Skills = Hard to Learn

Parents have been browbeaten into believing that STEM is the solution to all education problems when, in reality, it is part of a bigger picture of what it takes to function today. If we, as parents, have learned anything in the last three years, it’s that STEM is a small part of what it takes to function today. While the skills learned in esports don’t have a science, technology, engineering, or math focus, it doesn’t mean they are not valuable.

What’s the value of all that STEM knowledge if you cannot properly communicate or work on a team to implement what you know? Every programming team has a brilliant programmer who cannot work with others effectively. We were never formally taught these important skills when we were in our schools and colleges. Some kids pick it up better than others, but what did our kids lose in the year or more that they weren’t even passively working on their social skills by being amongst kids their own age?

More Than a Game

Esports is the answer to the soft skills half of the equation and is complimentary to everything kids are learning in STEM – the flip side of the coin. That’s why at Valhallan we focus on more than game mastery. Anyone can become better at the games with enough time as a keyboard warrior. It takes planning, practice, and guidance to work effectively with your team, learn your opponent’s weaknesses, communicate all of this to your teammates, and, most importantly, remain humble when you win and appreciative when you lose.

It's not unlike the value of regular sports, even though I don’t think our players are “athletes" either — but that’s a whole different article.  

Programmer and serial entrepreneur David Graham has decades of experience building successful software and businesses—including one of the largest youth STEM franchises. Based in Houston, TX, Graham lives with his wife, Missy, and two sons. Follow David on LinkedIn.

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