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Tech & Kids

The future of esports and kids

Help children benefit from esports with insights and advice from experts.

What does esports look like?

'Esports is an umbrella term that is used for competitive computer gaming that usually (but not always) happens in teams,' says Professor Donghee Wohn.

“However, similar to books or movies, the content of esports games vastly differ,” says Dr. Wohn. “Some games are very violent, some are not. Some have very realistic graphics, some are very fantasy-like and playful.” As such, some parents might struggle to decide whether esports is right for their child. “You may have to take things case-by-case.”

Professor Dmitri Williams highlights that ‘esports’ is a “relatively new phenomenon.” It can bear some similarities to traditional sport, he says with “paid players, brand sponsorships and knowledgeable fans.”

Major differences, he says, include the scale of esports and where it takes place. However, while most esports take place online, “the biggest matches take place as part of annual or semi-annual championships, and are usually held in large stadiums, which are filled with enthusiastic fans.

“It’s especially popular in Asia, where it’s not uncommon for 50-100k people to show up in person to cheer for their favourite individuals and teams. The events are often paired with stage shows with musicians and usually have high production values.”

Is esports safe for kids?

For parents who are unfamiliar with esports, says Dr. Wohn, it might help to compare them to physical sports. Take the example of football, which is a good option for socialising and team building. “But if one places a 10-year-old in a game with other adults, there would be a lot of extra things one would want to consider.”

Similarly, if your child plays a game like Rocket League with friends, there might not be as many concerns compared to if they played with strangers. If they play with open communication settings instead of restricted settings, there might also be additional risk.

“Like any social activity, parents should be mindful of who their child plays with, how much time they spend playing, and how they play (e.g., are they being respectful? What kind of language do they use during the game?).”

Additionally, Donghee Wohn encourages parents to research games ratings and content. “A quick online search into the nature of the game to see its description, or even watching ten minutes of what the gameplay looks like on YouTube or Twitch . . . will give parents a better idea of what the game is like without having to play it themselves.”

Esports benefits and risks

Like with any technology that children engage with, both benefits and risks are likely.

What are the benefits?

Building a range of skills

Skill-building

Professor Donghee Wohn says “the known facts of esports, based on research, is that the collaboration and communication skills required to play successfully are extremely high.

“Even though people do not associate computer games as being a physical skill, the dexterity and hand-eye coordination required to play well require a very high level of intellect and physical ability. Of course, not everyone plays that well, but it does indicate that esports is a little different than some games that are more ‘mindless’ or ‘relaxing’ in nature.”

Opportunities to socialise

Socialisation and connection

Dr. Wohn notes that there are also a lot of “social benefits” to playing. “It strengthens existing friendships, but can also open up one’s world by conversing with strangers.

“My colleagues and I did a research study where we found a student living in a rural area where most people did not go to [post-secondary]. He wanted to go [university] because he was inspired by the older students he was playing with.”

Playing esports in supportive environments can have both mental and social benefits.

Preparing for the future

Career development and opportunity

The esports industry is quickly growing, introducing new career paths and professional development. This goes beyond simply becoming a professional gamer as well. Young people can explore careers in areas such as coaching, event management, broadcasting and game design. Additionally, more schools, colleges and universities are now embracing esports in clubs and course offerings.

As technology develops and careers change, helping young people harness their passion for esports can help them develop key skills to support their future.

What are the risks?

Experiencing abuse and hate

Harassment or hateful behaviour

“Like any social situation, there is always the possibility of people misbehaving,” says Dr. Wohn. “The types of harassment documented in gaming environments is so horrible. Unfortunately, children are exposed to all types of horrible situations, both online and offline. Helping them navigate these difficult situations can help build resilience for the future.

“The most important thing is to understand that whatever happens in esports is not to be dismissed as something that is ‘only online’ or ‘not real.’ The emotions that children experience in the virtual world are very much real.”

Unequal playing ground

Ownership and accessibility

Professor Williams highlights that unlike traditional sport, game developers own esports. “No one controls all of football, since you can always walk outside and kick a ball around. In esports, you’re using a company’s platform, so they run everything, from how players are compensated to where teams are based to whether a particular character can toss a magic fireball or not.”

As such, not every child can access esports in the same way they can access football or other ballgames. Esports require a games console, an internet connection and the game they wish to play. If that game requires microtransactions to give players an upperhand that helps them win, children who are unable to make those purchases will struggle to reach that same level.

Furthermore, while many young people might want to pursue a career in esports, it’s not always viable.

“Although there is considerable hype around esports, including discussion of inclusion in the Olympics some day, the business model isn’t always solid,” says Williams. “Sponsors like to be involved since the young and male-leaning fans are often hard to reach, but teams and revenue streams aren’t always stable.”

Promotion of gambling behaviours

Esports skin betting and gambling

Like traditional sports, some people like to bet and gamble on esports. One such form of gambling is called skin betting. Skin betting involves using virtual items from games, like rare weapons or character skins, as a form of currency to gamble on the outcome of esports matches. Although virtual, these items often have real-world value, sometimes reaching hundreds or even thousands of pounds, depending on the rarity.

Some research suggests that those who play esports are more likely to also engage in skin betting or other forms of gambling in esports. It’s important to recognise this potential risk of gambling with both real-world currency and valuable virtual items.

Esports teams in schools

Many schools, colleges and universities now offer esports teams, clubs or courses. British Esports, the national governing body, offers BTEC qualifications to students. Over 10,000 students at 160 schools and colleges study Levels 2 and 3. In March 2024, they also launched a Level 4 and Level 5 BTEC qualification. Additionally, the College of Esports offers university-level courses in esports management, business, digital media and marketing. Universities such as Staffordshire University and the University of Northampton also offer esports degrees.

At the school level, teams often compete against other schools in the same way as traditional sport. These programmes teach valuable skills like teamwork, communication and critical thinking. While competitive gaming is a core aspect, esports in education provides well-rounded learning opportunities for children and young people.

4 tips to help children compete safely

If your child is interested in esports and competitive gaming, here are some things to help them get the most out of it.

Consider children's maturity

Think about individual needs and strengths

When it comes to esports, Professor Donghee Wohn says it’s important to think about the individual child:

“Like any other social activity, the child’s age and maturity should be taken into consideration when deciding how much supervision or autonomy is needed.

“Younger children’s brains have not yet developed self-constraint.” So, parents and carers should set limits to how much time they spend playing, what games they play and who they play with.

Older children (once they can think critically and have built that digital resilience) should be “encouraged to plan these things for themselves” with parent/carer guidance when needed.

Explore step-by-step gaming settings guides to help children and teens stay safe.

Put safety first

Set up consoles and games for use

In addition to finding the right games for your child, it’s important that before they start playing, you set up the games and consoles for safety.

  • PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and other consoles have parental controls to promote safety. Set content limits, spending restrictions, screen time reports and more before your child plays esports to help ensure safer experiences.
  • Keep consoles in communal areas rather than bedrooms. Our research found that more than half of UK children play video games in the bedroom. This increases with age (64% for 11-13s and 72% for 14-16s). Unfortunately, consoles in bedrooms can often increase time spent gaming as well as risk to exposure of online harms.
  • Consider whether your child is ready for online multiplayer or should stick with single-player games. While most esports games require internet connection and communication with others, not all of them do. For your child, it’s important to give them the right access for their maturity. See our guide to first connected devices to help.

Learn more about video games and esports safety.

Encourage a balanced relationship

Help young people balance their time online

Esports are exciting, but they shouldn’t take over a young person’s life. So, help them create a schedule that includes time for esports, but also time for schoolwork, socialising, physical activity and enough sleep. Additionally, encourage them to explore other video games beyond just their favourite. You might want to also set time aside to play something new together every week.

It’s also important to support young people’s digital wellbeing. Esporting is competitive, and losses happen, which can frustrate anyone. Therefore, it’s important to emphasise losses as an opportunity for learning from mistakes and improvement.

Lastly, if they do get frustrated, you can help them by giving them coping tools. Knowing when it’s time to take a break is a great way for them to develop a balanced relationship with technology.

Helpful resources

Explore esport opportunities together

Talk about esport goals and aspirations

Esports can lead to different career paths beyond just becoming a pro player. Is this something your child is interested in?

You can use their interest in competitive gaming or watching esports to talk about aspirations and goals. Do they want to play games professionally? Do they want to create games? Is their interest or passion something that might impact them long term? Or is it simply a hobby and a way to spend their downtim?

Regardless of where they see esports taking them, talking about it all and taking an interest might encourage them to open up. It can also give you an opportunity to dive into the world of esports so you can stay on top of safety and the latest changes.

Meet the experts

Get more insight into the expertise of each contributor to this guide.

Headshot of Dmitri Williams, PhD
Dmitri Williams, PhD

Dmitri Williams (PhD, Michigan 2004) is a professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, where he teaches courses on technology and society, games and data analytics.

His current work focuses on the study of influence among populations through the concept of ‘social value.’ His ongoing work centres on the social and economic impacts of new media, often within online games. He works actively with companies and startups across the tech sectors.

His work has also been featured in several major media outlets, including NPR, CNN, the Economist, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Sun-Times and others. Williams testified before the U.S. Senate on video games and has served as an expert witness and consultant in federal court cases.

Visit dmitriwilliams.com or follow him on LinkedIn.

Headshot of Professor Donghee Wohn.
Donghee Wohn, PhD

Donghee Wohn is an associate professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology and director of its Social Interaction Lab. Her research focuses on human computer interaction, where she studies the characteristics and consequences of social interactions in online environments such as live streaming, esports, virtual worlds (metaverse) and social media.

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