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Students Gain 21st Century Skills through SCSD’s First-Ever Esports Camp

This is a photo of two students, each sitting at a computer gaming center and smiling at the camera.The team is lined up and ready to go. They look to their coach for direction, following along as they shift into various stretches to warm up. Then, the coaches lead them through all aspects of the game.
They’re not preparing for a game of basketball, lacrosse, or volleyball, though – they’re preparing to participate in Esports!
And their coaches aren’t leading warmups in person – they’re speaking with students through computer screens and headsets. The coaches, from across the country, are among the top 10% of gamers nationwide. The network of 600 of them work with students to help share the intricacies of each video game – teaching strategies, strengths and weaknesses of characters, and how players must work together in various games to accomplish goals.
Forget the stereotype of a gamer eating Doritos in his parents’ basement. Thanks to a partnership with Elite Gaming, 40 middle school students and 40 high school students gathered for this Esports camp in a professional Esports arena, located in the MOST. There, they each had their own workstation, where they engaged with fellow gamers online and their classmates sitting just feet away.  
“Gaming has evolved so far,” Elite Gaming Co-Owner Rob O’Connor explained. “Today, we love to game together. It sparks friendships. The kids will come in, high five or fist bump, and sit next to each other as they play.”
And it’s not all for fun – Esports is also a great way to help engage students in the ‘soft skills’ colleges and employers are seeking.
“Esports is a great tool to help get the kids where they need to be,” Mr. O’Connor added. “We hear that oftentimes when it comes to higher education, students are missing the soft skills. Esports helps teach those soft skills – the time management, communication, and teambuilding. When you’re gaming, you have to learn to delegate and work together. You have to learn to be a gracious winner – and loser. You have to learn to be coached and take instruction.”
Over the course of the camp, students focused on two games: Minecraft (similar to digital Legos) and Rocket League (similar to playing soccer with Hot Wheels cars). They were faced with challenges to help them hone their skills. One week, they were tasked with creating the ultimate treehouse. The structure couldn’t touch the ground, and students had to create a way to reach it. Another week, they were tasked with building a roller coaster that had to go through a tunnel and include some kind of inversion. Through these activities, students learned to work together while becoming more confident in their own abilities.
Excell Holmes said he has seen firsthand the positive skills that participation in Esports provides. He graduated from ITC in June 2023 and is now a professional video game player and coach. He also works full time at Elite Gaming, where he helped coach current SCSD students in the summer Esports camp.This is a photo of the inside of the Elite Gaming arena, showing rows of computers and students sitting at some of them.
“Esports has helped improve my communication skills, has given me a sense of leadership, and has really allowed me to feel a part of something bigger than myself,” Excell said. “I’m pursuing something I’m passionate about while also being able to help other people. When I was their age, I only had Esports opportunities on a smaller scale… and I really had to seek them out. This level of gaming is something I would have valued at their age. Esports is a great opportunity for you to feel a part of something, even if you don’t fit in as a traditional athlete.”
That sense of community is what Mr. O’Connor agrees is special about the gaming experience.
“It serves an underserved population in our schools,” he said. “Oftentimes, gamers are the people who may have trouble finding a place. But gaming is truly for everyone – regardless of your ability, physical or mental challenges. Here, everyone is the same – we’re all on the same team with a level playing field, learning together and having fun. When you’re gaming, you instantly have something in common.”
Roberts 7th grader Sophia Oakes said she usually likes gaming with her father and brothers at home… but the Esports camp helped expand her skills and her social circle.
“I like that when you’re gaming, you can make your own things and think in your own way,” Sophia shared. “At the Esports camp, I’ve learned new coding skills and the importance of focus and paying attention! It’s cool being here – I’m usually the only girl – but everyone is nice and I’ve made some new friends.”
Classmate Max Estrada, also a Roberts 7th grader, agreed – and said the camp also helped him see a path for his future.
“I like the atmosphere here… everyone is nice and so supportive,” he said. “I’ve learned new skills here through the challenges they have given us. We get to work on coding and problem solving, which I enjoy. I enjoy video games and I like working with computers. I hope to make it as a professional Esports player – but if I don’t make it, I’d like to become a computer engineer. My mom wants me to grow up to be successful, so she tells me that if I want to keep doing this, I also have to keep good grades. That really motivates me.”
Elite Gaming staff say the early exposure to Esports can open the door to a wide variety of future careers. The gaming industry is growing, and those who have been interested in gaming may also find that they are well prepared for rewarding careers as content directors, graphic designers, web developers, software developers, network engineers, event organizers, Esports attorneys, accountants, data scientists, and more.
Thank you to our friends at Elite Gaming for leading this fun #SCSDSummerLearning opportunity! Anyone interested in learning more about Esports or attending events at Elite Gaming is encouraged to check out their website:  
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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