Unique ‘Gaming Concepts’ Coursework Boosts GPA Averages by 1.4 Points, Harnessing Students’ Passion for Video Games and Turning it into Cross-Curricular Academic Success

High School Esports League (HSEL), the largest and longest-running competitive gaming organization serving high school students and teachers, proudly announced HSEL Gaming Concepts — a first-of-its-kind high school course curriculum that harnesses students’ passion for video games to aid their academic success. The HSEL Gaming Concepts curriculum was developed in partnership with Microsoft and is designed to prepare and support teachers and faculty members during its implementation. A primer course and start-up guide are available for free to all educators through the Microsoft Education Community, with the complete curriculum, including standards, overview, and full lesson plans, available for download from HSEL

Developed and piloted by principal Dr. Kristy Custer and teacher Michael Russell at Complete High School Maize in Kansas, HSEL Gaming Concepts teaches college-and-career-ready skills and social-emotional learning through the lens of video games and esports, aiming to prepare students for life beyond the classroom — both in-game and off the screen. The curriculum covers a variety of relevant topics and skills, including self-advocacy, personal and social behaviors, interpersonal communication, fluency in technology, and strategy development.

Through their involvement with HSEL’s after-school program, Custer and Russell recognized that organized extracurricular esports had a noticeable positive impact on students’ overall engagement and academic performance. The pair decided to take their findings and move one step further to create a semester-long elective course, peer-reviewed by Wichita State University, and approved for high school credit toward graduation. In the pilot program, students who took the course saw an average of 1.4 points of GPA improvement and 95 percent or better attendance — strong evidence of the positive impact video games and organized esports can have on students’ lives, especially in an academic setting. 

“We’ve known for a long time that bringing students’ passion for games into a supportive, educational environment can be transformative for kids who otherwise might be disengaged or left behind,” said Mason Mullenioux, co-founder and CEO of High School Esports League. “HSEL Gaming Concepts is further proof, and we can’t wait to see the impact on students’ lives across the country as it launches on the Microsoft Education Community.”

“Students with chronic absenteeism who do not feel a connection to the school especially benefit from esports,” said Dr. Kristy Custer, principal at Complete High School Maize and co-author of the HSEL Gaming Concepts curriculum. “Eighty-two percent of students on our team had never participated in an extra-curricular activity prior to offering esports.”

“Esports has tremendous potential, both to inspire students to learn 21st-century skills and also to include many students who have previously been marginalized with respect to competitive activities,” said Donald Brinkman, a senior program manager in charge of the Bing Esports team.  “The HSEL Gaming Concepts curriculum is designed to teach pro-social and pro-academic behaviors that are positively correlated to better academic performance—all through the lens of esports. We are thrilled to support it.”

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