What is esports & how does it relate to well-being?
What is esports & how does it relate to well-being?



By Sayo Okamoto


For some, gaming and well-being are opposing terms, with concerns regularly raised by parents, educators and politicians about the time young people spend online. In his award-winning article, the BBC Young Reporter of the Year 2022 shared his experience of gaming addiction. In China, regulators even restricted the times that under 18s can engage in online game-playing.

Yet, research has shown that online game playing is correlated with well-being, and a recent study from the US found that gaming is associated with improved positive cognitive performance in children.

In this guest blog, Sayo Okamoto, founder and CEO of GAKU and chair of the Youth Council at the Global Esports Federation shares her views and experiences of esports and education.

The video game industry has now surpassed the size of the global movie and music industries combined, surging to US$179B in 2020 in spite of the pandemic. With over 3 billion people already enjoying gaming worldwide, it has become an integral part of life for many. This makes it increasingly important for educators, parents, and students to properly understand, manage, and amplify the positive impacts of gaming and technology while minimizing associated risks and negative effects.


Image from the Gaku Games of Harrow International School, provided by Sayo Okamoto

Credit: Image from the Gaku Games of Harrow International School, provided by Sayo Okamoto


For those new to the term ‘esports’, it can be difficult to understand the difference between esports and gaming. Gaming is an umbrella term used for anyone playing any video game on any platform. Individuals who game are referred to as ‘gamers’. Esports involve teams competing against one another in a way that is similar to traditional team sports. Professional esports teams have coaches, mental and physical health doctors and nutritionists who support the well-being of each individual athlete. Those who play esports are referred to as ‘athletes’ and they are encouraged to hone their minds, build team rapport, and maintain a healthy lifestyle for peak performance.

Esports definition according to Jason A. Engerman and Robert J. Hein via JStor: eSports (or e-sports)—short for electronic sports—are organized video game competitions which are usually played on personal computers (PCs). Players compete in events ranging from high school leagues to professional tournaments [...] eSports could be considered a legitimate sport becuase they combine abilities such as hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and reaction speed as well as tactical understanding. Players are organized in teams (or 'clans') which take over the functions of associations and often are sponsored internationally.

Esports has seen a significant rise in popularity in recent years. This trend has not gone unnoticed in the educational sector, as some schools and universities have begun to incorporate esports into their curriculum, though many educators remain skeptical about esports as an educational tool. Further, there is a long-standing negative stigma surrounding esports and gaming driven by stereotypes and misconceptions about gamers, as well as concerns about the impact of technology on mental health and well-being.

One such stereotype is that gamers are socially isolated and lack social skills, another stereotype is that gaming is a waste of time and detrimental to education and career success. Although these concerns may be valid to some extent, views are changing. The collaborative nature of esports means that students can connect with one another, albeit online, and develop social skills. Esports can be a place of community where young people come together to accomplish a goal (win the game) and it has been found that esports can have a positive impact on cognitive skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and spatial awareness.

Concerns also exist around the impact of technology on mental health, with some studies linking excessive gaming to problems such as addiction, depression, and anxiety. However, it is important to note that these issues can also be caused by other factors rather than gaming being the sole cause. Furthermore, to address these concerns in an effective and supportive way, we should promote education and understanding about esports and gaming and help students to develop skills of self-regulation.


From a social standpoint, esports is more inclusive than other sports, with men and women able to play on the same teams and participants coming from various social groups and demographics..


Esports can take many forms, including organized leagues, tournaments, and competitions. Many popular video games, such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and Overwatch, have active esports scenes with professional teams and players who compete for large prize pools. If you are unfamiliar with these video games, I challenge you to ask your students about them and dip your toe in a new world! Learning about the interests of students and staying in touch with what is popular today can give insight into their personal lives, and allows teachers to communicate with students about their interests.

An advantage of esports in education is how it allows students to be exposed to more than traditional academic subjects and sports. A study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) found that 70% of students who play esports in high school reported that they were more likely to want to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

Another advantage of esports in education is that it can help to develop a wide range of skills that are valuable in both the academic and professional worlds. For example, esports can help students to 

improve their teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. According to an article by Intel, students who have participated in esports as part of their curriculum showed a significant increase in interest in their academic performance, specifically in math, science and reading.

In addition, esports can also be used as an outreach tool for schools and universities. Many colleges and universities now have varsity esports teams that compete against other schools, which can be a great way to attract and retain students who are interested in gaming. According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), there are currently over 200 colleges and universities in the United States that have varsity esports programs. This is further evidence that students interested in esports are not isolated or do have social skills: these students are part of a thriving community. The stigma that gaming is lonely is an idea of the past.

Furthermore, the economic impact of esports is undeniable, industry is expected to reach $1.79Bn in revenue by 2022. According to Newzoo, a market intelligence company, Asia Pacific alone will account for 53% of all esports revenue in 2022 and North America is expected to generate $410.1 million in revenue, a YoY growth of 11.2%. This increasing revenue shows the potential of esports to be a profitable career path, making it an attractive option for students.

In conclusion, esports is a fast-growing industry and it has already begun to make an impact in the educational sector. It is a powerful tool for engaging students and developing valuable skills, which will have an immense impact in the future. With the industry expected to grow and the potential for profitable career paths, the use of esports in education is likely to increase in the coming years and if the trend is coming, why not just start now?


What do you think?

After hearing Sayo’s perspective, what are your thoughts on esports and well-being? Does she challenge your views regarding gaming? Do you agree with what she is saying, and yet also see the other side? There are articles presenting an opposing view and looking into the impact, prevention and treatment of gaming addiction. But what do you think?


Further reading

www.gaku.world Global programs provided by Sayo Okamoto for students between the ages of 4-22 to support youth in the space of esports and future technologies. The program aims to promote a balanced lifestyle and smart approach to technology use among students and adults. Students engaging in healthy eating, exercise, being aware of their mental well-being, within the esports context helps them draw connections between their hobbies and health considerations. The program also supports students to understand how they can interweave technology into their personal well-being. It also serves as a gateway for educators and parents to gain awareness of the opportunities created by this fast-evolving industry while avoiding some of its problems and pitfalls.


What is esports & how does it relate to well-being?