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Harassment and injuries from excessive play are among challenges facing most scholastic esports programs

Addressing the 800-pound gorillas in scholastic esports


Harassment and injuries from excessive play are among challenges facing most scholastic esports programs

Plenty of organizations and researchers speak about the positive qualities of scholastic esports. I personally see those benefits. But many are unwilling to discuss the two 800-pound gorillas that every school or university faces. These substantive challenges prevent esports from being a healthy and inclusive environment for all students.

First, esports can become a toxic emotional environment due to harassment and bullying during game play. Fun, spirited “trash talk” is the nature of competition, but harassing other players or bullying them – either through game play or via audio conversations via the PC – crosses the line. In fact, a 2019 survey from the Anti-Defamation League found that 65 percent of players reported experiencing “severe harassment” including physical threats, sustained harassing and stalking.

Related content: 8 tips to launch a scholastic esports program

Exposure to such behavior, the study shows, found that 23 percent of players became less social and “one in 10 players said they had suicidal thoughts after being harassed while playing online games.” As a result, most K-12 schools report participation in esports play is 95-99+ percent male, despite the fact that females accounted for 46 percent of gamers nationwide.

Second, prolonged play without monitoring of health habits can expose young people to prolonged physical injuries. A 2018 peer-reviewed study from BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine journal found that, among collegiate esports players, 56 percent report eye fatigue, 42 percent report neck and back pain, 36 percent and 32 percent report wrist and hand pain respectively. Despite these high numbers, the journal reports that only 2 percent of players sought medical attention.

Between bullying and harassment, prolonged exposure to injuries, and little efforts to effectively curb these bad practices, are school systems exposing themselves to lawsuits and Title IX investigations? School officials can’t claim ignorance of these issues, when concerns about harassment and injuries are features in stories in the Washington Post, New York Times and CBS News.

Esports organizations are making strides to address these issues. NASEF’s Code of Conduct is a great example of the expectations we must set for players and coaches. But just as school systems currently have established policies and procedures, schools also use technology to monitor, deter, and address such issues when they arise.

Every district has rules that apply to conduct on school buses, yet because of ongoing disciplinary issues encountered, most school buses have cameras on board to document any behavioral problems and address them in a proactive way. The mere presence of those cameras helps deter the behavior problems for many.

Having been involved in scholastic esports for several years on the computer hardware side, I was proud to lead an effort to help make esports a safer and more inclusive learning environment. Healthy Player ONE is the first of its kind – addressing both harassment and injury prevent with software. I’m fortunate to have aligned myself with a team of passionate technologists who see the opportunity to make scholastic esports an effective teaching tool – to enlighten their careers but especially their character. We often overlook the ability for gaming to enhance interpersonal communication, collaboration, creativity and cognitive ability.

First, the software monitors game play to give students a safe way to report and document inappropriate behavior from other players. With a tap of their keyboard, their computer starts recording their computer screen and independent audio in their headset, capturing exactly what occurred so it can be impartially reviewed by the coaches or other school officials. The mere presence and knowledge the software is in place often can deter the bad behavior in school and college programs.

To prevent injuries, the software empowers coaches to limit game time, enforce breaks, provide exercises for players during breaks, and use online “check-ins” to document the appearance of any injury-related symptoms.

Among the positive attributes this software can have for a school system, educators experienced in scholastic esports comment the software can help make esports a more inclusive environment, making it more appealing to a wider range of students. Documenting symptoms early can reduce repetitive strain and eye-related injuries. Most importantly, the software helps schools proactively demonstrate oversight into their esports programs, reducing their exposure to liability lawsuits.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many “kills” you log in a game or what tournament you won. It’s your personal character and how your “ethos” was truly revealed during game play.

Since launching in May 2020, Healthy Player ONE has already formed partnerships across K-12 and Higher Education esports organizations. For K-12 scholastic esports, NASEF (the North America Scholastic Esports Federation) has named Healthy Player ONE a preferred partner. In higher education, NAECAD (National Association of Esports Coaches And Directors) has partnered with the company.

To learn more about the realities about harassment and injuries associated with scholastic esports, and how a simple application can reduce those obstacles, please visit www.healthyplayerone.com.

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