Samuel van Kiel: Sports and esports sharing a university curriculum – Esports Insider

Acknowledging the reality of the current climate, which is still amidst a global health pandemic, schooling and the university experience isn’t perhaps as viable of an option as it previously was. Simply put it cannot be the same as previous years.

However, despite the current conditions, Esports Insider has covered a variety of esports education-related announcements in the last few months. From US developments with Fairfield University, Shenandoah University, and the University of Washington, all the way to initiates at Australia’s Murdoch University campus.

In 2016, the University of California, Irvine was ahead of the trend by becoming the country’s first public university with an esports program alongside announcing its esports hub, the UCI Esports Arena. This fall and summer, UCI offers its Esports Management Specialised Studies Program completely online (Hitmarker.net members can get a 10 percent discount on tuition) as well as through the Coursera platform.

Since then, dozens of universities have followed suit across the globe, with Staffordshire University leading the charge in the UK, and Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUas) forging ahead for the Netherlands. However, despite esports educational programmes slowly becoming integrated into universities, new innovative projects are still being discussed to fully immerse the sector even further.

Esports Insider spoke with Samuel van Kiel, Lecturer at Academy for Leisure and Events at BUas, about the academy’s currently-under-development Sports & Esports three-year degree programme, plus how the thought of integrating the two sectors came about.

Sports and Esports, together at class

After joining as a lecturer at BUas’s Academy of Leisure and Events in 2015, Van Kiel began to investigate esports after learning of a student’s internship at ESL in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

Van Kiel told Esports Insider: “It really opened my eyes, I thought, ‘wow, this is amazing’ and I started looking more into this esports thing that I had heard of but didn’t know too much about. I really dug in, I read a lot about it, and basically, I told everyone at my academy, ‘Look, gaming is the biggest entertainment industry out there. Esports, what we’re seeing now has developments now that we need to allow our students to be part of.’”

Van Kiel saw the future going digital and global and painted a picture through the academy’s eyes of events and leisure. He believed that by adopting esports into the curriculum it would offer their students future-proof exposure to digital events. It would also serve as a good start for the academy to begin to future proof itself by investing more into digital experiences and events to apply across the board.

In 2018, Van Kiel got the go-ahead to establish a cross-disciplinary team and develop the Esports Event and Media Management minor programme which the academy launched last year and brought back again in 2020. Complimenting BUas’s world-class Creative Media and Game Technologies programmes, Van Kiel shared that the development of the Esports Event and Media Management minor programme set out to satisfy the university’s desire to offer cross-academic courses.

“So really what we did was we compared competencies and said ‘this is what [the Academy of Leisure and Events is] good at this is what [the Creative Media and Game Technologies programmes are] good at that, so let’s focus on event and media management, let’s go for the game event side of things.”

Van Kiel’s team decided to focus on three key aspects: expertise, production capability and esports as a strategic means. He elaborated: “It’s great that you can organise events and can attract visitors but actually to what end are you doing this and did you achieve this strategic goal, yes or no?”

Early 2020, he and his team began working on the development of the Sports & Esports full-time program, seeking to pursue the innovative area between the two. ”It’s really about seeking the best of both worlds to come up with new creative ideas.” He explained.

The benefits of blending the two sectors

Sports and esports share, at base, gaming and play – and the combination of traditional sports with the often misunderstood esports could help eliminate the segregation and stigma between the two industries. By increasing the diversity of students and backgrounds that the program will attract, this could ultimately make for more interesting discourse and creative connections to be made.

Having a look around other institutions, Van Kiel noticed “There are tonnes of education in terms of traditional sports, tonnes of it. So (the academy) said ‘Look, we have to distinguish ourselves.” By setting out to differentiate from exclusively sports or esports programmes – the combination of the two overlapping disciplines certainly will make the programme stand out when enrollment is opened.

Because of the lingua franca of esports and Europe in general, both the minor programme and the full-time programme are conducted in English, since the academy has an international mindset for its students, both in import and export of talent. Although the university is in the Netherlands, the coursework and thesis projects are encouraged to think and pursue global pursuits. 

“One of the key concepts for us is ‘transference.’ So it really is about: you can care about the games or the sports you love, great, come to us, but you must have an open mind about everything else that’s going on in the world. Plus, not only have that open mindset but also critically look at: ‘what can I learn from this? What can I take to whatever sport I’m invested or interested in?’”

There is a particular relevance of this program being developed in the Netherlands, as Van Kiel explained: “I think it’s been ingrained in [the Dutch] culture, especially for the past fifty years that sports and health have just been exactly the same thing, if you want health you do sports. So I think that as the background or backdrop and this new [esports] thing coming in, it just doesn’t connect with people.”

This is reflective of the results of a recent study asserting half of the Dutch population meets the country’s physical activity guidelines. Marrying sports and esports could actually prove to be an incredibly clever move as the country seeks to grow its esports industry despite battling ‘stereotypical gamer’ stigma and mismarketing of term ‘esports’ in the country.

The country’s breakout FIFA league, the eDivisie, has claimed the lion’s share of the esports attention in the country despite the launch of Riot sanctioned Dutch and Belgian League of Legends Leagues. Perhaps this intersectional approach set out by Van Kiel and the team will be successful in mixing the realities of sports and esports, allowing each discipline to future-proof, educate and improve upon each other.

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