The Esports BTEC one year on: We talk to students, teachers and others about how the qualification has aided them

The Esports BTEC one year on: We talk to students, teachers and others about how the qualification has aided them

Dominic Sacco
17 min read | 15 Jul 2021

September 2021 Update: Pearson have approved 160 centres to teach the qualification including centres in eight other countries around the world. This means there will be between 1500-2000 students studying the qualification during the academic year 2021/22.

The Esports BTEC qualification has been taught in schools and colleges for one year now, having launched in 2020. But what is it like to study (and teach)? How can it help you secure a career? And what do people think of it so far? 

Dominic Sacco speaks to teachers, students, Pearson and the British Esports Association to find out.

What is the Esports BTEC and how does it work? We ask Pearson for the lowdown

In April 2020, education provider Pearson and the British Esports Association announced the Esports BTEC – the first qualification of its kind. It’s a skills-focused qualification set up to help sustain esports, and the only internationally-recognised course available to students who want to explore a career in esports that is specifically oriented around the sector.

The BTEC Nationals consist of an Extended Certificate, Foundation Diploma, Diploma and Extended Diploma, and these qualifications are the equivalent of one A Level, 1.5 A Levels, 2 A Levels or 3 A Levels respectively.

Through the partnership, an international BTEC National is also be available, as well as the Esports BTEC being taught in schools and colleges throughout the UK. The number of centres approved to deliver the Esports BTEC is now more than 100.

BTECs are the most popular vocational qualifications in the UK, and are recognised by universities and employers in over 70 countries. You can study a BTEC alongside, or instead of, GCSEs or A Levels at school or college, and combine practical learning with subject and theory content. Each qualification is designed with the workplace in mind, providing students with a broad grounding in an industry.

In particular, the Esports BTEC course contains 20 units, which cover a diverse range of topics. These span from topics unique to esports, including shoutcasting and esports skills, strategies and analysis, through to broader and more transferable themes, such as entrepreneurship, events management, live-streamed broadcasting, video production and health and wellbeing.

You can see the units in the Esports BTEC here:

Pearson and the BEA collaborated on the BTEC in Esports to satisfy the enormous skills gap developing in the esports sector and provide a clear, effective path to employment in the industry for thousands of students in the UK and internationally who aspire to work in it.

Laura Hall, Sector Manager and Digital Product Owner for Business, Enterprise, Esports, Marketing and Law at Pearson, explains how BTECs differ to other qualifications: “BTECs differ to A-Levels, GCSEs and NVQs as they test a whole range of assessments. Some of them are exam-based, some of them are practical – so if you’re studying sport you might take a coaching session for young primary school pupils for example. But you also might be taking a project that an employer has set for you that is based on something they want doing. And you as a student might work with that employer to deliver the project. So it’s about building real life skills and using up-to-date technology to do that.

“Universities recognise BTECs and it’s a popular progression route for BTEC students, as are apprenticeships and employment. Schools and colleges delivering esports as an after school activity were really excited they could see students from different demographics being really engaged and communicating well with people, which they weren’t always seeing before. So it’s a very exciting time for us. We are hugely engaged with British Esports to support the growth and progression of students into employment.”

Deidre Williams, Head of BTEC Applied Qualifications at Pearson, adds: “Pearson has been absolutely delighted to work with the British Esports Association to develop the first esports qualifications for learners aged 16 years of age upwards. Every year, hundreds of thousands of learners go to university and further education into careers and apprenticeships from BTECs, so we’re delighted to have esports join this family. 

“The BTEC qualifications mainly focus on transferable skills, sector skills, industry skills and future skills, and prepare learners to be able to work in the ever-changing job market. If the pandemic has taught us anything in the past few years, it’s the need for learners to be able to adapt and be ready for new careers and new ways of working. With the BTECs we want learners to be prepared to go into new and emerging careers that have yet to be imagined.”

You can find more information on the Esports BTEC here.

Barnsley & the BTEC: An example of a college teaching esports

Barnsley College is one of the institutions teaching the Esports BTEC. Situated in South Yorkshire, it’s one of the flagship UK colleges to offer the BTEC in Esports in the UK.

The town-based college educates 5,000 students aged 16-18 at any one time, approximately 700 of whom study BTECs.

For its esports course, it has developed a suite of state-of-the-art facilities that are designed to aid the development of esports, enterprise and entrepreneurship skills. These include a dedicated eports arena and a classroom tailored to provide a unique and immersive experience for students. 

Beyond the qualification itself, Barnsley College also offers students the opportunity to be involved in its Esports Academy, a college team called the Barnsley Griffiths that competes against other schools, colleges and clubs in the British Esports Student Championships.

Barnsley College began its esports study programmes in September 2019, which progressed through to September 2020 where they had 77 learners that enrolled and 77 that have just completed the year. They expect to have 110 full-time esports learners at Barnsley College from September 2021.

Kalam Neale, Curriculum Lead at Barnsley College, Director of Education at Strategic Esports Group, Trainer & Writer at Pearson, and Course Leader for Esports, Enterprise & Entrepreneurship, says: “The BTEC Esports qualification is unique in that it is the first of its kind globally and is a blend of previously standalone vocations such as sport, business media, games and esports. This not only provides students with a wider range of knowledge and skills but also the combination of specialist units that are studied further supports progression into a wider range of careers than would be traditionally seen by studying a single vocation.

“We’re going to have two state-of-the-art gaming rooms in addition to what we’ve already got. We’ve got a health and wellbeing space which we take very seriously and that’s very important as part of this BTEC, we have a green screen and production room, editing suites, casting rooms, enterprise pods and boardrooms, an enterprise start-up initiative as part of that facility as well, along with the IT classrooms. So it’s about providing an environment that’s allowing learners to tap into all of these skills and experience things.

“Esports isn’t just about one video game, it’s about a whole industry. Learners will talk about their favourite teams and games they play, the tournaments they follow in different countries and so on. I always say to students – choose to study something that you love. If you love what you’re studying, you’ll do well, you’ll achieve high grades, you’ll succeed and can go on to work in a career that you love – and then you get paid for doing something that you love.

“Personally, I’ve loved seeing the transformation of the students from the start of the programme to the end. The range and variety of content and assessment has really brought my students out of their shell and developed them into adults. In our classroom, they’ve been able to learn in an environment that they are comfortable in using state-of-the-art technology in a professional environment that replicates industry standards.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard with employers to provide a wide range of exit routes for our students and a variety of work-related experience and employment opportunities, including the RAF and Williams F1.”

Speaking of Williams…

Williams Racing: What an employer thinks about the Esports BTEC

Steven English, Head of Esports at Williams Racing, is leading a team in esports that is growing fast.

He’s been at Williams for seven years and in Formula One for 12 years. He’s ran creative and digital teams at Williams as part of the marketing department. What began as a marketing project just over three years ago quickly dwarfed Williams’ other new projects to become a business of its own at Williams, and means that Steven is now solely focused on esports.

Steven has a background in journalism and is now part of the Williams family, which employs 800 staff.

“We’ve gone from having no esports employees just over three years ago to five permanent people now who are 100% dedicated to esports,” Steven says. “We’re expecting that number to double year-on-year in the short-term future, and there’s a range of skills and areas where those jobs will be. Even what we do with our esports programme is growing and diversifying year-on-year.

“We’re now going to need a lot more people to help deliver the stuff we’ve realised we can do. The board of our company recently approved a new esports business plan, which is investing in millions over the next five years and beyond, it’s expanding beyond what we do in sim racing as well. 

“Sim racing was a good place to start and we’ve thought about expanding beyond it. The fact that Rocket League has done a deal with Formula One and the teams like Williams have livery in it, that’s helped us take a step forward there. And in the future we’ll be looking at titles beyond the sectors we began in, and that will only bring more growth, areas of specialisation and careers in the future. So three years in, we’re still snowballing out of control as an esports business.”

On qualifications and the kind of staff Williams looks for, Steven explains: “We look for good people to do jobs that need doing, the same things that employers look for. You want to foster the right culture in your organisation – we’re a demanding employer. Not everyone will be successful in that environment. Every individual job has a bunch of specialist skills that are needed, as well as wider skills that you can pick up along the way. It’s a huge advantage to have people that have knowledge and expertise in the areas you’re working in – you can hit the ground running and get off to a head-start.

“There’s a lot to learn. We do a lot of internships, graduate placements and student engagement at Williams across the business. 

“Students studying the Esports BTEC would bring that rounded experience to everything we’re doing – you can’t underestimate the value of that. To me it makes more sense to train in the area you’re passionate about rather than a linear path . Coming in with a head-start in every area makes you much better prepared than coming in over-trained in one area and under-trained in the other areas.

“This gaming world is something people are passionate about, so there must be thousands of kids around the country who would love to spend the rest of their lives getting paid to do what they love. And if a course like this can help you to do that more than more generic qualifications, then to me it’s a no-brainer.”

A word from the British Esports Association

Tom Dore, Head of Education at the British Esports Association and a teacher, speaks of the importance of the future of exports education. 

“I’ve taught for over 16 years now across the full spectrum of state, independent and alternative provision settings,” Tom says. “The reason I got into esports education is not necessarily because I’m a massive gamer, I guess I can be described as a retro gamer, but I got into this because I could see just how many young people absolutely love video gaming and esports. 

“So how can we harness that and engage with them, in the same way we’ve done with traditional sports and activities like music, arts and drama over the years? Esports in schools is one of those other activities we can use to motivate and engage young people and use as a vehicle to develop a range of esports-specific and industry-specific skills and knowledge, but also a wide range of transferable skills as well.”

Tom has seen first-hand some of the benefits that esports brings to students, both at an academic and extra-curricular level.

What do students think of the Esports BTEC?

‘I’ve learnt about topics that I’d enjoyed at school but hadn’t considered in an esports context before, like business and fitness’ 

Ethan Hutchinson from Barnsley College, says the Esports BTEC has given him confidence and a course he enjoys. 

“When I left school, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do,” Ethan explains. “I went into six-weeks’ holidays without knowing who I wanted to be, and what I wanted from my future. I went on two courses before joining the BTEC in Esports and I didn’t enjoy either of them – I didn’t feel like I fitted in with the people or the culture of what I was doing. 

“So when my mum mentioned to me that I could study esports with a view to going into the gaming industry, it was amazing because I felt like I had somewhere to go, be myself and thrive. 

“I’ve enjoyed the course in so many ways since the moment I signed up. Not only because of the people I’ve met and the tutors who have been in the college, but also because I’ve been able to learn about so many other topics that I’d enjoyed at school, but hadn’t considered in an esports context before, like business and fitness. 

“That has given me both the confidence and the drive to consider university, which, before I picked up esports, really didn’t appeal to me; I wasn’t interested in the social aspect! But since doing the Esports BTEC, I’ve now booked to go onto university and have had an offer from Sheffield – I’m so excited to see where that takes me. That’s all down to esports and the course.”

‘I’d recommend this course to anyone with an interest in gaming and digital entertainment’

“I chose to do this course after losing my job through lockdown last year,” Oliver states. “I wanted to do something which furthered my skill sets in something that I love, which is recreational and competitive gaming. 

“After searching the internet for courses in the UK, I decided on Barnsley College and I’ve been there for almost a year now. As a mature student returning to education after 10 years, the advice and support that I’ve received from tutors has ensured I achieved the best grades possible. 

“Due to the wide variety in esports, whether it be education or a career, there is something for everyone. For jobs for example, there are things such as physiotherapy, nutritionists, game developments, marketing and even the legal side. For me, I’m still deciding which route I want to take. I will be going on to university, but whether it’s to study teaching, coaching, event management or broadcasting, I’m still unsure.

“Choosing to study esports helps to develop transferable skills which can be applied to everyday life. For example, learning different strategies and tactics also increases problem-solving skills by enabling students to identify and analyse other athlete’s playstyles and how to counter and overcome them. 

“It also increases cognitive skills, such as working memory capacity, by learning map layouts, team compositions, character skills and their cooldowns. Other skills aided and improved are attention to detail, teamwork, communication and sportsmanship. All of these skills can greatly increase success in roles outside of esports – and example of this would be my previous career in IT, where all of these skills are key to progression.

“For people like myself who have a passion for gaming, it makes learning this set of skills more enjoyable and interactive. This is why I’d recommend this course to anyone with an interest in gaming and digital entertainment.”

Other useful resources

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of learners go to university and further education into careers and apprenticeships from BTECs, so we’re delighted to have esports join this family.”
Deidre Williams, Head of BTEC Applied Qualifications at Pearson

Click to enlarge:

“The range and variety of content and assessment has really brought my students out of their shell and developed them into adults. In our classroom, they’ve been able to learn in an environment that they are comfortable in using state-of-the-art technology in a professional environment that replicates industry standards.”
Kalam Neale, Curriculum Lead, Barnsley College

Keep up to date with British Esports

Why wait? Get the latest resources, articles and opinions direct to your inbox.
So you can say you heard it before your friends.