Paving the way for esports in education with Emma Liston

Paving the way for esports in education with Emma Liston

Adam McGowan
9 min read | 1 Dec 2021

With esports being integrated further into education, leaders in this sector are emerging to lead the way. 

We recently spoke with Emma Liston, teacher at Alva Academy in Scotland, about her journey into esports, and how she worked to lead the first Scottish team to compete in the British Esports Student Champs.

Starting out:

Emma has worked at Alva Academy as a music teacher for the past four years, but her personal experiences with gaming sparked an interest to bring esports into the secondary school. 

She said: “I have had a personal involvement in gaming from a young age, but gained interest in the esports stuff that was going on around the games I played.”

The first game that Emma played properly was World of Warcraft – where her big brother slowly introduced her into the realm of online gaming. 

“My brother would play World of Warcraft religiously, and he’d get so annoyed at me constantly being over his shoulder that he made me a little character. I realised I wanted to play games from then on.”

Using these positive experiences as a gateway into a passion, Emma wanted to merge gaming and school-life, but this was not possible. 

Emma states: “I remember getting home from school and logging on and playing with people who I’d met on games, because there was nothing to tie me to someone else who probably played games at my school. Just like you would go to a basketball club and meet other people who love basketball, you need a shared space for gaming to do that. All the way through high school and college, we had nothing like that,” she added.

Whilst the esports scene was still not as developed as it is now, Emma worked through university to find people with common interests and inevitably grow her passion even further.

Bringing esports to Alva:

After the experiences Emma had through her own education, she wanted to provide students with the opportunities she had missed out on herself. 

She said: “I’m their teacher, and I have that opportunity to be the person that does create that space for kids who were like me – and this was the big turning point for me to push it to get it done.After talking to a few people, and being introduced to the British Esports Association, and even having kids who came to me and basically said ‘we love gaming, we love esports, and we heard you play games.”

These conversations quickly turned into plans, with a lunchtime club being formed for students at Alva to come together to play games. Now, the school has a state-of-the-art esports suite, and several teams competing in the British Esports Student Champs.

The staff and other students at Alva Academy show their support for the teams regularly, and fully back how esports can benefit young people. 

Emma said: “All it takes is one staff member to step up. From being a student and a teacher, you’ve just got to speak to staff members, because they’re the ones that can really get it rolling.”

Making a name for themselves:

Alva Alliance have worked tirelessly alongside Emma to get themselves out there, and make a name for themselves in the grassroots scene.

Even though the team started out as a small lunchtime club playing Worms Armageddon, their dedication led them to where they are today. 

“There was nothing like it in Scotland when we first started, and we would play Worms on an XBOX on one controller, passing it around like eight different people. We had no network, and just starting like that got the kids interested. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere without the kids, they’ve been absolutely outstanding. They’ve done really well , because the first year that we played in the British Esports Student Champs, that’s when it all really kicked off.”

“Our Rocket League teams that first year made a phenomenal name for themselves, and that meant I could go to my Head Teacher and say ‘look how successful these kids are, and we could have such a community here where they’re all sitting next to each other, rather than sitting in their room on their own,” Emma said.

This accomplishment really allowed Emma to push to get esports integrated into the school, and allow these students to flourish in an educational environment.

Esports and education:

There are several benefits of esports that can help young people develop their future careers, as well as developing important life skills. 

One of the biggest worries for Emma was what parents would think about their children getting involved, but the responses were overwhelmingly positive from the beginning.

“Everyone who is in esports knows there is a sort of barrier of ‘it’s simply just playing games’ and ‘it’s a waste of time’, but I had one parent say that their child’s relationship with school has been the best it’s ever been since starting esports.”

Emma added: “I’ve found that there’s a lot of kids who are interested in esports that don’t have the best relationship with the school environment – so channelling that into something positive is what we’re trying to do.”

Having esports as an extracurricular has given students the motivation to do well at Alva Academy, because they want to channel their passion into a positive working environment.

“The kids aren’t going to remember their higher English exam or their music exam, but they are going to remember all of the memories that they made after school in this room.”

Even though Emma leads the esports activities, she has been able to find links between that and music to help teach her students. 

“Esports is incredibly useful around the school, because we have a kid who plays the game OSU. I know OSU as a rhythm game and that kid can pick up a rhythm or a tune in my classes because he made that connection between gaming and music.”

This crossover doesn’t end with music, as esports provides crucial skills and developments that can be beneficial to most subjects across the curriculum. 

Women in the industry:

As a woman in esports, Emma has shown that anyone can get involved and action their passions – especially in such a broad industry like esports.

However, representation of women in the industry is still lacking in areas, but changes are being made gradually to fight this.

Emma said: “In terms of the professional side, I was watching the women’s teams for Valorant and I was just sitting there so inspired by these women who were so much better at the game than me. However, as a solo player, you’re too scared to even speak on mic because of how horrible it can be. It’s almost like if you play badly as a woman, you’re going to get absolutely thrashed into the ground.”

“It was really nice to see at the Student Champs finals, some of the kids on stage were young women, and it was just nice to see a mixed group of men and girls in a competitive grassroots scene,” she added. 

Emma continues to work with the team at Alva Academy to make esports part of mainstream school life in Scotland, as well as paving the way for future educators to get involved too.

You can follow the journey of Alva Alliance on twitter, and keep updated with their progress in the British Esports Student Champs

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