The California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) Esports Association prides itself on being about more than just competition. They proved that once again during a first-of-its-kind Esports Summer S.T.E.A.M. Camp in June and July. Association members served as mentors during the four-week event, held in partnership with Compton Unified School District, sharing their skills and knowledge with a group of 24 high school students.
The Compton students were hand-picked by teachers to participate in the camp, and came from all four of the district high schools. Coming together virtually in small groups three times a week, students and mentors worked on a lesson plan built around the popular game Overwatch.
They did more than just play the game – students focused their efforts on building positive online environments, creating content, building teamwork and communication skills, and developing digital media.
STEAM Education is an approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.
Students also got to hear from guest speakers from the world of esports and gaming, discussing topics like diversity and inclusion, building a toxic-free digital environment, being health-conscious, and social justice in gaming. The camp concluded with a student-hosted Overwatch tournament, which they set up and conducted all on their own, using the skills they’d learned over the past four weeks.
The entire event was a huge success, says Ruben Caputo, CSUDH Esports academic advisor and general manager. “Everybody loved the camp, and it really spoke to what makes us different. The students felt like superstars,” he says. The event also tied directly into the CSUDH Esports Association’s mission, which focuses on four concepts: competition, academics and research, entertainment, and community.
Formed in 2017 out of an ad hoc group of gamers who hung out at Loker Student Union, the CSUDH Esports Association has quickly carved out a niche on campus, and currently boasts almost 150 members. They compete with other associations in a variety of games, including Overwatch, Rocket League, League of Legends, Valorant, and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. Under Caputo’s direction, the academic components are considered just as important as the competitive aspects of gaming.
Members of the CSUDH Esports Association don’t just learn how to win at various games, they also develop technical and non-technical skills that are highly sought-after by employers, says Caputo. “We build self-efficacy, develop communication skills, improve strategic thinking, encourage adaptability, and try to build a positive digital culture. The intangibles are as important as the actual hard gaming skills they master.”
The Compton Unified students who participated in the camp were helped in their learning by a computer loan program that the district arranged. Thanks to an in-kind gift in gaming laptops, the school district was able to supply equipment to students in the program, which allowed them to code and compete at a high level.
“It was a really great experience,” says Caputo. “When the student gets to take a gaming laptop like that home and their parents and siblings can actually witness what they’re doing, it’s pretty special. I received thank you emails from parents, saying how they had started to bond a little more with their kids in a new area. That was really neat to hear, because it tells you a lot about how gaming can help our students connect with and give back to the community.”
CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham is a big supporter of the CSUDH Esports Association, having helped establish a successful esports program while in his previous position at UC Irvine. He wants esports at CSUDH to serve as “a strategy and not an outcome.” As Parham says, “gaming requires the mastery of certain hard and soft skills that benefit students directly. The goal is to use gaming as a strategy to help students learn those skills that will help them to better manage the rigors of a university education.”
Parham says that the Summer S.T.E.A.M. Camp is a model for what he would like to see the CSUDH Esports Association do going forward. “This is one of the ways that we can help dissipate the digital divide, not just in terms of the equipment, but in the skills and learning that take place through that gaming culture that are then directly transferable into the workplace or school.”
The CSUDH Esports Association’s relationship with the community is also at the heart of its next big endeavor. BLITZ 2020 – a 24-hour “speed running” marathon to raise funds to benefit the East Side Riders Bike Club charity in Watts. For those not in the know, speed running involves gamers attempting to complete games in record time; CSUDH has the first such team in the nation, and their event will be the first collegiate speed running marathon in the U.S.
The speed running marathon can be viewed on the Twitch channel of TheGamersEDU, a co-sponsor of CSUDH Esports, at https://www.twitch.tv/thegamersedu
The marathon will occur on August 7-8, and Caputo has been pleasantly surprised by the attention it has received in the gaming community. “We sent out submissions for anybody to join us,” he says, “and we have people from Australia, Asia, and Europe who will be joining us, playing in our channel, bringing their followers, and donating funds. Everyone’s very excited about it.”
President Parham is excited that with events like the S.T.E.A.M. Camp and the speed running marathon, the association has shown itself to be dedicated to the community and is working to break down barriers. “Gaming has taken a lot of heat because it’s not very diverse,” he says. “If you want to get a more diverse community, you’ve got to go to places where diverse communities are, like CSUDH and Compton Unified. We now have people not only participating in gaming, but being trained in it, so we can dissipate digital divides, increase diversity, and teach the skills necessary to better succeed at the university.
“For me, it’s a win-win. I will do anything I can to help our students succeed, to graduate and make that change, so we certainly need to embrace esports in that way. It’s not just about students playing games!”