Southern Lab School’s esports league prepares teens for careers in the STEM field

Imagine a high school student earning scholarship money for college after winning a game of NBA2k20 or Madden. For students in the Southern University Lab School’s Esports Club, that opportunity is only a few video game wins away.

Visual arts teacher and esports coach Christopher Turner started the league in 2019. He wanted to give young gamers a space to play, connect, learn and gain tools to prepare them for life after high school.

During the school year, students 13 and older gather in-person monthly at the school’s gaming lab and online to practice, play and compete in video games like NBA2k20, Madden, Minecraft, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. The extracurricular club has 50 members and 5 players on the esports team. They play against each other or compete with other high school level teams in the national league for the chance to win up to $1,000 in scholarship funds.

“If you can take your high school career and make an opportunity for yourself, why not?” Turner says. “As a coach, I want to have the most wins in the high school esports league. I judge success not just by championships, but by how many kids we place in college for a STEM career.”

Visual arts teacher and esports coach Christopher Turner runs Southern University Lab School’s Esports Club. With him are two students in the league, Cornelius Pointer (left) and Troy Murphy (right).

On Minecraft, gamers can use problem solving and architectural and creative skills to build their own virtual world, connect with others and explore popular landmarks depicted digitally. In NBA2k20, players can learn the ins and outs of the NBA, virtually train professional basketball players and design their own ideal athlete to play on the court.

In a 2016 study by Project Tomorrow, an education nonprofit, researchers found 48% of teachers used video games in the classroom in 2015. That percentage had gone up by 18% since 2012, showing teachers found an increased benefit for video games as a teaching tool. In addition to entertainment and educational value, students have also benefited from esports financially.

Southern Lab eighth grader Troy Murphy took home a $1,000 scholarship after winning the NBA2k20 National Championship in June.

But it’s not all fun and games with the esports league. Outside of gaming, Turner uses the lab to teach the students media and technology skills on subjects like live streaming, commentating, writing video content, video production and graphic design. The on-campus media and esports lab is a one-stop-shop where students can create video game content from start to finish.

Though COVID-19 temporarily prevented students from meeting in-person at the media room in the spring, Turner has used the time to fundraise to upgrade the space with improved equipment, seating and decor. Over the summer, he’s aimed to raise $5,000 to update the esports lab in time for the students’ expected return in the fall.

“Esports is a $1.1 billion industry and it’s not going anywhere,” Turner says. “Technology is only getting bigger, faster and better, so STEM careers are the future.” sulabschool.com

This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.