Inside Events: The Varsity Esports Foundation
13 May, 2020By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Bubba Gaeddert, Executive Director
The Varsity Esports Foundation (VEF) is a 501(c)(3) organization established to offer financial assistance to schools and to provide a pipeline for students to reach their potential through esports. The organization strives to increase literacy around the Esports industry’s positive impact on healthy lifestyles, mental health, community and STEM.
The foundation’s goals are to build a network of inclusive student gaming communities; create scholarship opportunities for students within these communities; ensure a safe and supportive environment for players at every level; and promote gaming literacy across the ecosystem.
The Varsity Esports Foundation is STEM accredited, and members relevant professional organizations, including Twitch Student, Microsoft Educator Community, Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, United Way, National Council of Nonprofits, Common Sense Media, National Education Association, and the National Afterschool Association. The organization has also earned a Bronze Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.
Sports Destination Management: Sounds like the Varsity Esports Foundation has a lot going on!
Bubba Gaeddert: We do. We’ve also announced a partnership with the High School Esports League (HSEL).
SDM: Are there a lot of leagues out there?
Gaeddert: VEF vetted the four top competitive leagues for high schools in the U.S. We found that the only league to meet our criteria, standardsand integrity was the High School Esports League. We now work with HSEL to provide scholarships and grants for schools and students.
SDM: That is impressive. How is the foundation working toward its goals?
Gaeddert: We partner with HSEL to provide a free curriculum for high schools. This curriculum is the seventh most downloaded curriculum on the Microsoft Education site in 40 countries.
SDM: What is the curriculum like?
Gaeddert: The curriculum, Gaming Concepts, was developed by Dr. Kristy Custer and Mr. Michael Russell, who are partnered educators. Gaming Concepts teaches college- and career-ready skills and social-emotional learning -- all through the lens of video games and esports.
By harnessing students’ passion for games and bringing it into the classroom, Gaming Concepts improves academic performance and attendance, all while equipping high school students with the life skills they’ll need to ace college and beyond.
Piloted in 2018, Gaming Concepts has already made a huge impact, improving overall GPA by 1.7 and an increase of 10 percent in attendance for students who took the course. Gaming Concepts is a turnkey curriculum available 100 percent for free to any educators interested in implementing it. The full course book, available to download as a PDF, includes instructions on how to secure approval from the administration and school board, and has peer reviewed notes from Wichita State University.
SDM: It sounds like you’ve hit upon the way to gain acceptance for esports among even people who might doubt its worth.
Gaeddert: We get to partner with all the people who are doing it right. That’s the difference for us.
SDM: We’ve heard that gaming is popular across a wide range of students.
Gaeddert: It is. What’s great is that suddenly, students who weren’t good at traditional sports are suddenly able to represent the school and do it well. Many students who compete for their schools develop a sense of belonging because of what they’re doing; Kids realize there are others like themselves. They make friends and they enjoy playing alongside them. They want to keep their grades up so they can stay on the team.
SDM: Do you think there’s a misconception regarding gamers?
Gaeddert: Yes – there are people who don’t see the end goal of playing esports; they don’t realize it offers opportunities for college and for careers in STEM. Unfortunately, there’s still that perception that gamers are sitting in the basement eating Doritos and drinking Red Bull. If people see a kid is good at football, there’s always the hope that he can get to college or the NFL. We have to switch our thinking about esports.
SDM: There has been a lot of concern about the first-person shooter (FPS) games that are very popular right now; how does VEF handle the concern that playing such games leads to violence in real life?
Gaeddert: It’s always an entry level fear and it gets allayed right away. What we do is take kids away from just playing alone at home and put them into a supervised team environment, where they have other kids to talk to and where they’re making friends. Predominantly, that fear tends to go away. And really, FPS games are the most popular in high school.
SDM: What other games are you seeing that are popular?
Gaeddert: Rainbow6 is picking up quite a bit in high school. We’re also seeing Overwatch and League of Legends becoming popular in college. Rocket League has been making a comeback as well.
SDM: What kind of resources are you providing now that kids are out of school because of the pandemic?
Gaeddert: Esports is exploding during the COVID-19 outbreak. We are working with families to provide some healthy gaming options during isolation and while schools are out. We know kids will be on games all day now. We are working to provide them the opportunities to play and be healthy. Our info deck is here.
SDM: We know that scholarships are available for esports now.
Gaeddert: There’s an estimated $20 million being offered by colleges to esports varsity athletes. A portion of that is still going unused because there aren’t enough students in the pipeline for them to proceed to college.
SDM: Does high school esports involve a lot of travel?
Gaeddert: Well, most schools are using their computer labs and they might do events with other schools, but many competitions are held online because the overhead is so much cheaper for schools.
SDM: Is it a huge industry?
Gaeddert: Well, we belong to a whole industry that is predicated upon the traveling team. But I don’t think travel teams will replace esports programs because of the accessibility. The technology is just going to keep increasing.
SDM: Is it a varsity sport at any high schools?
Gaeddert: No, so far, it’s only offered in clubs.
SDM: How many kids are in each club?
Gaeddert: There’s a lot of variety. If there’s 15 students in the club, seven might be gamers and the rest might be commentators, managers, A/V kids and so on, but their function is like a high school student who helps out with the basketball team.
SDM: Is there a lot of diversity?
Gaeddert: There is. Because we can get all these kids together, there’s no need to have a boys’ and girls’ team; they all compete together: male, female, black, white, deaf, blind, using wheelchairs – they’re all part of it.