India is poised to be a major player in the future of esports.
“By the end of the year, India will have 628 million gamers, and it is the fastest growing esports market in the world,” says Ravneet Gill, founder and CEO of Eduent, an India-based organization that works with schools to build an educational foundation for esports. “More than 50 percent of the population is below 22 years of age.” India also has approximately 770 million internet connections, which is more than twice the U.S.
“Of the next 1 billion new internet users that will come on stream, 62 million of those will be in India,” he says. “So you have a young population, you have internet connectivity that's going through the roof, and you have youngsters who are technologically very comfortable.”
The country has also emerged as a center of animation production, and then there is India’s cultural and artistic heritage
“India's mythology, India cinema, ‘Bollywood’ as it's called, really lends itself beautifully to gamification. So I think in many ways, this is almost a marriage made in heaven,” Gill says.
But he wants India’s youth to do more than embrace esports, he wants students to learn from gaming and to use it to help it fuel collaboration, tech skills, and ultimately, employment and innovation. To that end, Eduent has partnered with the The North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) to become the organization’s Indian affiliate, and is launching this fall in nearly 2,000 schools.
Education Embedded in Esports
Part of what brought the two organizations together was NASEF’s commitment to connecting learning and play.
“In most cases, when one goes to observe a competition in esports, you generally see five-on-five, six-on-six, two-on-two, whatever those numbers are, and it's very limited to just the observation of kids playing on computers,” says Gerald Solomon, founder and executive director of NASEF. “In our world, in how we embed learning into play, we require that the students actually demonstrate concurrently with the gameplay the artifacts of their learning.”
He adds, “Our approach is not just about how to play a game -- that's really secondary in many ways, it's the attractor no doubt -- but how do you use that attraction for the student who is a casual gamer, is not a competitive gamer, but really enjoys it and wants to be part of this club concept, this universe, this community, that we're creating.”
For example, a student who has an interest in art can pursue logo design, or jersey development. Or perhaps one is drawn to the organizational side of esports events. “All of that gets demonstrated and shown during our competitions,” Solomon says. “Our competitions are very different from the typical competitions one sees in esports. So through that students get to see other students, they build a community, parents get to see students and say, ‘Wow, it's more than just sitting in a computer playing games.’ And educators get to see how you can use the lens of esports as a pass through and vehicle to expose kids to these other opportunities.”
Gill believes this approach is exactly what esports in India needs to foster more support from parents and educators. “One of the challenges which we find in terms of esport is how do you bring in the older generation into the fold of esports?” he says. “If you want balanced development of esports, and you want it to become really healthy and mainstream in education, I think buy-in from the parents is very important. Still across the world, a lot of parents feel that it can get addictive, it is harmful. So we want to be able to educate people through this process, to be able to provide the research that goes into this program.”
India is currently promoting Digital India (opens in new tab), an initiative that aims to transform the nation into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Gill and Solomon are confident the partnership between their organizations dovetails with that effort.
“If you look at the whole philosophy of NASEF, in terms of their esports education, it is to go beyond the game,” Gill says. “To look for opportunities -- how do you create professions out of that, become entrepreneurs, become innovators. And I think that's exactly what India needs.”