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Academic Esports Conference & Expo™ is here for you during this unusual and historic time in education.

The Academic Esports Conference & Expo is providing technology, academic and esports leaders and professionals with guidance to help navigate the COVID-19 pandemic impacting schools and colleges across the nation. We understand this is a very difficult and unforeseen time in the lives of all educators.

As we all work through this together, we are collecting useful insights and strategies from upcoming Academic Esports Conference speakers; plus our magazine, District Administration, is keeping on top of all the developments and passing helpful information on to you here.

This page will be updated regularly, join our mailing list to stay up-to-date.

INTERVIEWS WITH AECE SPEAKERS

John Shoemaker

John Shoemaker
Educational Technology Program Specialist/Esports Facilitator, Palm Beach County School District, Florida


  1. Maintain strong relationships. Students need positive relationships with adults and their peers during this uncertain time. Their mental health is the No. 1 priority right now over gaming, rankings, and even academics. Many students are overwhelmed, lonely, nervous, or scared. As their coach, you need to work even harder to maintain the relationships you built with them. You need to let them know you care, and you are there for them if they need you.
  2. Disconnect from Tech. Although it may sound contradictory, it is vital for students and coaches to take breaks from technology and disconnect occasionally. In this new way of doing things, screens have become an all-day thing, and we are in front of them more than ever. As such, it is crucial to encourage students to take adequate breaks throughout the day. One idea is to have students set alarms on their phones to remind them to get up and take a break. Let them come up with other ideas and strategies on disconnecting and have them share those with you. This information helps you know they are taking breaks, but it could serve as ideas for other students who may not know the best way to disconnect.
  3. Establish clear lines of communication. Because you are not seeing your students in person each day, it is imperative to come up with set lines of communications for both students and their parents. Inform both groups on how often you plan to communicate with them and the method(s) you will use (email, texting, website, etc.). Communication with students can also be done via video chat. When communicating with parents, it is also important to let them know about the types of games that are proper for students based on their age level. For example, you might want to tell parents of middle school-aged students that a game like Fortnite is not the best choice of games for their child to be playing.
  4. Remain Relevant. Prior to the pandemic, esports in education was expanding rapidly around the world. Perhaps the best part about esports is that competitors do not have to meet in person in order to compete or play against one another. Because of this, esports has thrived and grown even more since most in-person sports are canceled. So now more than ever, coaches need to remain relevant and continue to follow what is going on in the esports world as it continues to expand. Coaches should continue to follow the most up-to-date information by following esports influencers and esports leagues on social media and through appropriate Discord channels.
  5. Focus on the future. We will not be working from home forever. So, coaches need to start looking toward the future and start planning for what is to come this fall. Coaches should begin working with their administration in the upcoming weeks to determine what esports will look like on their campus next school year. Discussions about what games will be played, what hardware is needed, how often teams will meet, and others should be started soon so the team can get back to a sense of normalcy as soon as possible.

Dr. Ryan Rogers

Dr. Ryan Rogers
Academic Coordinator of Esports Programs,
Assistant Professor, Butler University, Indianapolis, IN


  1. Keep playing and play more. To know esports or to improve at them, you need to play and practice those games. Currently, esports can be played while many other things can’t take place. If you don’t understand Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games such as League of Legends, this is a great opportunity to learn. If you want to get better with a new Overwatch character, now is the time. This experience will make you better informed and a more valuable voice in the industry. Likewise, don’t suspend existing competition. In fact, create more opportunities for competition in the meantime.
  2. Direct people to esports content: In the wake of mass cancelation of traditional sports, now is the time to create new and loyal esports fans. Many traditional sports fans are hungry for content, and they may be willing to check out esports to fill that gap. However, for many of these people, there are fundamental barriers to entry. Potential fans don’t have a clue how to find an esports competition or which ones are of interest to them. If esports are marketed properly at this point, there could be long-standing gains for the industry.
  3. Revisit your mission, personal goals, and role. For a lot of people involved in esports, the growth and demand has been immense, which can be overwhelming. However, COVID-19 has forced many individuals and organizations to slow down some previously fast-paced initiatives. When we get caught up in the exponential growth of esports, it is easy to lose sight of our original mission. Take this break in the action to assess what is important to you regarding esports and reorient yourself according to your personal goals and roles in that domain.
  4. Reevaluate treating esports as sports. A common reaction to the pandemic is that while traditional sporting events have stopped, esports events can thrive. This is accurate to a degree, however, the esports industry at large has made many efforts to emulate traditional sports, most notably in creating in-person events. It is my opinion that the esports industry has tried to blur the line between esports and traditional sports to legitimize esports and make them more palatable to resistant audiences. The unintended consequence is that some esports events are now suffering in the same way as traditional sporting events. The Overwatch League had to postpone scheduled in-person matches. This raises a question about how much we should try to make esports analogous to sports in general. In some ways, this mentality has robbed esports of what makes it special and unique.
  5. Zoom out. The pandemic and corresponding stay-at-home orders have put unprecedented stress on our internet infrastructure. Beyond that, many players and fans may live where they do not have internet access necessary for esports viewing and playing. This should make us examine the quality of our nationwide internet infrastructure and discuss what steps should or should not be taken moving forward. Consider that the next “Michael Jordan” of esports may not have a stable internet connection at home and will not get the opportunity to participate.

Nate Meeker

Nate Meeker
Director of Esports, The University
of Akron, Ohio


During this time of social distancing, we may find ourselves and our students and children spending more and more time in front of a screen playing games. Here are some tips and ideas for how to keep that game time relevant:

  1. Create an atmosphere that encourages socialization and communication. Many competitive games have social platforms that players can engage in, and it is most helpful if they engage with similar-aged peers to experience success in their games. High schools and colleges across the country are creating teams and other areas of connections to gamers – reach out and find out what is happening virtually in your area!
  2. Make it a family or community affair. There are a slew of games out there that cater to the non-gamer, or casual gamer, that would be great ways to get everyone in the family involved. In participating, you can show the younger gamers in your house or community how to positively communicate while playing, as well as building that socialization we all need in our lives. Check out Super Mario Party, Mario Kart, Overcooked, Jackbox Party Pack, and more.
  3. Incorporate gaming passion into assignments or projects. Looking for ways to extend your students or children’s aptitude in writing or art? Using their passion for games could be a great way for them to connect to those topics by using something that they are knowledgeable about and have an interest in. Perhaps, instead of having them write a summary of something going on in the literary or news world, allow them to take that and turn it into a work on their favorite game.
  4. Watch a competition together. While traditional sports may be on hold for the moment, esports are very much alive in the digital realm for many places around the world. Taking some time out during home life or class to watch one of these events with a goal in mind would be a great way to drum up some discussion and explore gaming from a different perspective.
  5. Build new skills together: Have a child or student(s) interested in gaming? Learn how to create, edit and piece together a video for YouTube reviewing the game, showing game play or just talking. Create a stream page and have them setup their own stream. Record commentary about various games that have been played professionally. The possibilities are endless, and these are skills that not only consider the passion of these students but may also be skills that help them in their careers later on!

Armand Buzzelli

Armand Buzzelli
Director of Recreation, Robert Morris University,
Moon, Penn.


  1. Remain positive and goal oriented. The students in our esports programs are dealing with unprecedented levels of disappointment and challenges within their academic, social, and home lives. They need as much positivity and guidance as they can get at this moment. It's important for us as coaches and administrators to model the behavior we hope to see from our team. Recalibrating realistic goals for your team will enable them to visualize success and give them something positive to strive for in these difficult times.
  2. Trust your gut. Whether you work in higher education or the K-12 school system, you eventually get used to the rhythm of each school year. You begin to compartmentalize life in terms of school weeks, school holidays, and school semesters. For most in education, summer is a time to assess, recharge, and plan for another year ahead. You are afforded 2-3 months to cultivate new programs and fresh plans for the year ahead. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t afforded us the luxury of time to plan for a new way of thinking. Decisions on moving forward need to be made quickly, yet thoughtfully. Lean on your experience and the expertise of those around you to avoid paralysis of analysis. Let the wellbeing of your students and colleagues be your compass.
  3. Use this time to expand your reach. Perhaps your Twitch channel is full of competitive esports matches and little else. Now is the time to go out of your comfort zone and develop some programming that appeals to different audiences. Consider hosting a campus trivia night, find a campus celebrity willing to do a cooking show, or host a WrestleMania recap show. These new viewers need some reason to get familiar with the whole streaming space and they may become your next crop of loyal followers.
  4. Show empathy. Everyone has a unique struggle right now. Expectations need to be tempered across the board. While esports continues to be a life raft for many, the stress and uncertainty of this time will cause some to withdraw or fail to meet their previous standard. With competitive leagues and tournaments in the college space grinding to a temporary halt, it's OK to take a break from practice or competition.
  5. Find activities that keep your community connected. Build your school or college campus in Minecraft. By virtually and metaphorically rebuilding your campus, you are offering your campus community hope, while giving your students a fun project that they can be proud of. This is a fun, therapeutic way to visit the buildings and campus landmarks that you miss already.

Kristy Custer

Kristy Custer
Principal, Complete High School Maize, Kansas


  1. Provide Resources: As many schools have moved to an online venue, video gaming is not only a companion platform for learning, but also a comfortable medium that most students are already familiar with. Provide families with high-caliber resources that enhance learning and help set healthy online expectations. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has a simple Family Discussion Guide applicable to all age groups that guides caretakers through common sense conversations with their children. The High School Esports League also offers a free online gaming curriculum in conjunction with the Microsoft Educator Community. Caretakers and teachers can download this STEM.org-approved curriculum to use as an entire course or as standalone lessons.
  2. Preserve Equity: As families adjust to this new educational normal, educators must be mindful of the diverse technology and human resources available to households. While some homes have plentiful devices, high speed internet, and available adults to facilitate learning, other homes may have no technology at all and limited adult assistance with learning. To preserve equity among students, educators must provide both online and non-technology resources. Some people are surprised at the connection between video games and board games. Teamwork, strategic thinking, socialization, and academic engagement are just a few of the benefits board games and video games have in common. Equally engaging for many students, board games provide a non-technology alternative to online gaming.
  3. Promote the positive aspects of video gaming: As out-of-the-box thinking has become the new standard in education, now is the time to promote the positive effects of online gaming. The World Health Organization is utilizing the vast reach of online gaming as a safe social activity that can connect people while maintaining social distance. Video game industry leaders united behind WHO's health initiatives to launch the #PlayApartTogether campaign that encourages gamers to follow WHO's health guidelines while supporting positive video gaming experiences. As educators struggle to engage learners, meeting them in the venues where they are spending their time – inside video games – might be just the connection educators are looking for.
  4. Extend personal invitations: "Contact me if you need help" is the in-class equivalent of "Are there any questions?" Neither is an effective way to engage learners if there is no follow-up from the educator. Because of the limited face-to-face interaction between educators and students while social distancing, it is difficult to determine how well students are really doing both emotionally and educationally. Scheduling group online gaming matches and inviting students to join encourages authentic check-in and social interaction that is so vital to staying healthy during social distancing.
  5. Acknowledge that less is more: This is new, and new is hard. Online learning isn't about taking lesson plans and putting them online, it's about taking an institution and flipping it upside down. The first lesson educators must learn is "less is more". Kansas, the first state to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the school year, developed a Continuous Learning Plan that focused on "critical standards" only and limited MAXIMUM student commitment each day to: PreK, 30 minutes; Grades K-1, 45 minutes; Grades 2-3, 60 minutes; Grades 4-5, 90 minutes; Grades 6-12, 30 minutes per teacher (3 hours max in a day). Because most students don't view playing video games as "learning", educators can often "sneak in" vital learning elements not always deemed as "critical standards" such as social-emotional learning during student gaming time.

Joey Gawrysiak

Joey Gawrysiak
Director of Esports, Shenandoah University,
Winchester, Va.


  1. Find meaningful events for your teams to compete in. Competitions are good to keep your players happy, involved with each other, keep their skills sharp and as a distraction from social distancing. These competitions should be meaningful to maximize these aspects so that students take them more seriously and it feels like the same kinds of competitions they had during the school year. Competitions for the sake of competition is ok, but for maximum impact and benefit to the students, these must be meaningful matches.
  2. Find ways to get students involved beyond their competitive games. Beyond just playing on the same teams and with the same people in the same games they played with during the year, find other games that have broad appeal amongst different teams. These should be less serious games and don’t require the same amount of structure meaningful events would. Games such as Minecraft or Animal Crossing, for example, offer a less stressful environment and have broad appeal to keep more people in the program, and broader student population, engaged.
  3. Develop lines of communication with students. Communication is key during this current climate. This could be to students as well as amongst students. Discord is a very valuable resource, and setting up appropriate servers for students to engage with faculty, coaches and each other is needed to ensure appropriate communication. Communication will help students stay engaged with each other and the larger program during isolation. It can also be used as a means of checking on students in a comfortable environment that gamers are used to.
  4. Make sure students feel supported and part of the team. Getting as many students involved as possible is key to making them feel supported. Seeing who has the capability and interest to compete as their varsity team, engage in more recreational ways or event who is just able to be involved beyond gaming is important to making sure students feel part of the program in the same way as they did while on campus and more physically involved. Not all students have the capability to compete on high-end computers or with reliable Internet, so seeing how they want to be involved still is very important.
  5. Find ways for students to grow and be involved remotely. Beyond gaming, there are ample ways to keep students involved remotely. Working on presentations, creating content online, working on special projects and just talking online to each other are some ways. These should be opportunities that have meaning and will serve the student in the long run. This is not busy work. The goal of educations is to set up students to be successful beyond school, so these should lead to that goal. Figure out what students need to do to prepare themselves and provide opportunities for remote development since these are invaluable experiences that can be drawn upon for their future careers.

Terry Kraft

Terry Kraft
Chief Esports Strategist, The Emerald Foundation, Lancaster, Pa.


  1. Support esports as a space for community. Students have lost the spaces where they would normally interact. They currently cannot go to school, hang out at a friend’s house, or get together at the movie theater downtown. Esports is vital during this time as a way for students to stay connected to their peers and currently exists as one of the few social circles connecting students to one another. Although you may think your child is playing too many video games, please understand that for many students this exists as their last social outlet
  2. Use this time to connect with those close to you. Video games can engage multiple people in an interactive space. As important as it is to support your child by throwing a football back and forth as they get ready for tryouts, esports can also be an impactful space to engage your child and learn more about their interests. Sit down and build a house together in Minecraft or work together to score goals in Rocket League. Just like sports, meaningful play with those close to them is important to a child’s growth.
  3. Screen time does not have to be idle time. In order to play at peak performance, esports players cannot be sedentary. Your physical wellbeing directly impacts your cognitive ability and your performance in video games. Take time in between rounds to do quick exercises, maintain a healthy diet, and engage in activities outside of video games in order to keep yourself at peak performance.
  4. Students are learning much more than valuable team skills when playing esports. The correlation between the soft skills and team play in video games is evident and can be easily recognized, but video games allow for growth in so many other areas, as well. Whether it is crunching numbers to purchase resources for your team or engaging in spur of the moment problem solving to address an emergency situation, video games allow for STEM learning in a variety of ways just by playing. Acknowledge your student’s or child’s growth and ask them questions about how they are playing and what strategy they are implementing. It is a powerful learning experience to recognize the amount of math and science that goes into each video game.
  5. Students are playing a variety of games. Video games cover a spectrum of genres, from first-person shooter (FPS) to multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), real-time strategy (RTS) and more. Some of the more popular scholastic esports games include Smash Bros Ultimate, League of Legends and Overwatch. These games can all be played on a console, while Overwatch and League of Legends can also be played on a PC.

John Cash

John Cash
Managing Director and Professor of Marketing, Brand Management and Esports at Johnson C. Smith University; General Manager of Cxmmunity


  1. Esports for Cognitive Focus: Engaging in esports is a great way to maximize brain activity, increase critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, memory capacity, and avoid those dreaded "I'm bored" moments at home.
  2. Esports Career Preparation: While playing video games, kids are unknowingly preparing themselves for successful career opportunities in the esports and gaming industries.
  3. Esports Promote Social Engagement and Social Distancing: Esports are one of the best and safest ways to continue socially engaging during this era of social distancing.
  4. Esports Physical Activity Benefits: Esports provide kids with numerous opportunities to maintain physical fitness through improving and strengthing their eye hand coordination, fast hand reflexes, dexterity, and the use of fine motor skills.
  5. Safe and Touch-Free Gaming Environment: Engaging in Esports can provide kids with a safe, fun, and carefree gaming zone that will allow them to redirect their attention away from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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