What I’ve Learned From Coaching An Esports Team

Boys use laptop computers to play esports games in a classroom

If you’re like me, conversations about streamers like Ninja and Fortnite dances like Orange Justice have taken over your classroom. That’s because gaming, especially esports, has hit the cultural tipping point and become mainstream. Esports, the term for competitive video game playing, is big. Like the fastest growing industry in the world big. Like millions of dollars in college scholarships big. I’ve written about why we need to embrace esports in school in depth and why we should embrace what kids love, but I wanted to update you from the trenches on the things I’m learning as I coach the FH Knights esports team.

In September, my school approved what is likely the first, real middle school esports team in the country. I had some worries as we started up our esports team. I’ve coached varsity football, wrestling, and track for eleven years, but I’ve never coached an esports team. On top of that, the game we are playing, Rocket League, was not a game I’ve ever played. I was nervous that my coaching experience wouldn’t translate over to esports, but after three months of coaching, I can say it does. Things like running a practice, game planning, reviewing film, and managing personalities are very similar to coaching “real” sports. The only thing a bit different is that most of my players have never been part of an organized sport. When I was a varsity coach, most of my players had been part of a team before. Most of my esports players have not. I’m spending a lot of time teaching my esports players how to be part of a team. I think the difference between video games for fun and esports sunk in when I starting using the same coaching line I used with my varsity athletes: We’re not here to have fun. We’re here to become better players, become better people, and win games. We’re getting better every practice. Our communication is improving, along with our ability to win and lose with class, and our ability to lift up our teammates. One practice, we even ditched the computers and had an analog practice using paper so we could focus solely on communication and call outs. Good stuff.

While I’ve played other games competitively, my other worry was that I’ve never played Rocket League before starting the FH Knights. This turned out not to be a big deal. That’s because I used my network to help me get in touch with the Rutgers University esports team. The young men and women at Rutgers have be wonderful at working with us and helping us get better. We send Rutgers game film and they send us feedback. Today we even scrimmaged! The FH Knights played Rutgers! Check it out:

Rutgers esports has gone beyond helping us get better at Rocket League, but their also helping us become better people.

Scott Zackman, competitive director of Rutgers esports, invited my players out to the Rutgers Fireside tournament last month. My team went and got to see some great matches, but also got to go backstage and see how esports tournaments are run and meet the players. Between this event and the times Rutgers players have been to our school to talk about STEM careers in esports, my players are really getting to see how students can turn their passion for gaming into a career. We’re learning that esports has the potential to be a lucrative career and what path we need to follow to get there.

Starting up this esports team has been a great experience. People from IBM, New York Excelsior, University of Northern Colorado, and many more places have reached out or been more than willing to offer us guidance, experiences, and opportunities.

My kids have been so into their new role as esports players, which is awesome because 100% of my players had no home/school connection before this team, that they want to spread esports to other schools. My players started a project in my class Fair Haven Innovates: Together my students and I have built this site, Esports For Edu, to connect middle schools and high school from all over the world together to play each other and grow an esports for edu community. No matter what game you play, as the site grows, you can use it to find competition for free. Also stay tuned for a “How to Start an Esports Team” guide made by my students. The guide is being written to help you convince stakeholders to approve an esports team and then help you, the coach, run the team. It will live here.

Superintendent McNeil checking out our scrimmage against Rutgers

Superintendent McNeil checking out our scrimmage against Rutgers 

What I’ve learned coaching esports thus far is simple: you don’t need coaching experience or game experience to use esports to help make your kids better players and better people; there is a wonderful #esportsedu community willing to help. Everything that students can learn playing “real” sports can be learned in esports including social skills and teamwork. And esports taps into a segment of your school that may not have a home/school connection while getting them excited for a career path they might not have known existed.

After Christmas our esports jerseys should be here and we will have our first match against the William Annin Vikings coached by Mr. Issacs on January 10th 4pm est. Wish us luck, follow us on Twitch, and watch what might be the first middle school esports game in history.

Until Next Time,


cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher

Chris Aviles presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more at Teched Up Teacher.

Chris Aviles is a STEM teacher, edtech specialist, and president of Garden State Esports. He is also a regular contributor to Tech & Learning.