Kevin: Even before the pandemic, eSports had grown into a $1 billion global industry. And today, there are more gamers than athletes in U.S. high schools. But how do students benefit from eSports? Can video games help students become better problem solvers and critical thinkers? Do they drive interest in math and STEM programs? And what career pathways exist for gamers? This is "What I Want to Know." And today, I'm joined by Black Fire Innovation Hub executive director, Robert Rippee to find out.
Kevin: Dr. Robert Rippee is an educator and entrepreneur who seeks to drive innovation through advanced technology deployment. He's the executive director of the Black Fire Innovation Hub, and the director of the Hospitality Innovation Lab and eSports Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His work provides him a unique perspective on the eSports revolution and he's with us today to explore the role eSports plays in our schools. Dr. Robert Rippee, it's a pleasure to have you on "What I Want to Know." And we're gonna talk about eSports, but I'd be remiss if I did not engage you about your journey. So here's my question, how did a decorated Naval aviator decide to get a Ph.D. in hotel administration, work in marketing for various casinos, and then end up guiding innovation in technology? I mean, that's one heck of a career my friend.
Dr. Rippee: Probably the thread that connects it all is, even from a boy, I was always, kind of, you know, there gotta be a better way. In each kind of turn of my career, there's been that search for something different, something more, you know, something more meaningful or something more interesting, whatever the case may be. But, you know, I feel fortunate that I've had such unique and very different careers, especially in what I'm in now. I love what I do.
Kevin: That leads me to this huge, huge area of eSports. And, you know, you're one of the resident experts in the country. So I wanna talk about eSports. And the first thing I wanna do is relate to a Washington Post article that a Washington Post reporter wrote, and she talks about the fact that her son wants to engage in video games as a career. And she says, "I'm trying not to hate this." And so there's a lot of parents who don't know anything about the eSports career. It's a $1 billion industry. It's bigger than Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA, hockey, all combined. There are more gamers in high school than there are athletes in U.S. high schools. So the real question is, you know, where did this come from?
Dr. Rippee: That actually took a more defined shape in the country of South Korea, where in the 1980s, they were faced with a very high unemployment rate among youth. And so the youth were spending a great deal of time in what were probably internet cafes, if we think of them that way, playing video games. And they became very good. And that led to organic competition between each other. And then soon one cafe was competing against another cafe. So it took on a team aspect. And people began to notice that, and then it became organized.
And now there were some sponsors who said, "Wow, there are a lot of people, a lot of young people doing this. Maybe this would be a good platform for us." And so you have this idea of video games following this trajectory of growth because more and more children are playing them. They're more and more accessible. The variety of games is greater and greater. And over decades, that continues to build until we now have a generation of those people under the age of 40 that have grown up in that environment, playing video games.
The other side of the business of eSports, it's a business that's supported like every other business. There are accountants. There are finance people. There are game designers. There are professional players. There are marketing people. There are sociologists who study and psychologists who help them. I don't think of it as being a professional gamer. That's one career. That's like saying traditional sports, the career is to be an NFL player. Well, that's highly unlikely for most people. It doesn't matter how much football you play. What it is likely is that you could play football your whole life, or you could become involved in football in another way by being an accountant, or being a marketer, or being a lawyer, or any number of different chosen careers that converge with this passion for gaming.
Kevin: And I think part of the explosion that helped propel this idea of gaming is the advances in technology as well, I mean, because, you know, the realism associated with it. I was watching a commercial the other day about one of these games, and they have, you know...I said, "Oh, wait a minute. That's not a real person. That's a game character." Don't you think that's contributed as well?
Dr. Rippee: I think that technology does have a play in that. And not just the graphics and animation technologies that, you know, game developers have improved but also the technology itself. Computers have gotten faster and internet connections, WiFi connectivity is faster. They're able to handle these higher loads and this greater streaming capacity. So, you know, all of those things contribute to the evolution of this just as it contributes to the evolution of your computer sitting on your desk.
Kevin: What about the way the eSports leagues are set up? Because there are now emerging elite players who were professionals who are treated as such. And how does that break down when you look at, as compared to, or some of the other major sports?
Dr. Rippee: There's one major difference to begin with between this high-level, high-performing video gaming athlete and the traditional sports paradigm. It's a fundamental difference that's very important to understand. Nobody owns football. The NFL are a collection of franchise teams, but they don't own football. Football is in the public domain. Anybody can play football anytime. Video games are intellectual property. They're owned by the publisher of the game. And therefore, anything that happens with that game is under their purview and ultimately would require their approval.
So the formation of teams and levels of professional play is fairly simple to understand over here in this traditional sports paradigm. When you look at these video games, then it varies greatly because these games are owned by different companies. And it's their direction and their, you know, intent as to how the professional levels are actually formed, how competitions are held, the rules behind competitions. You know, all of those different factors are really under the purview of the person who owns the game.
Kevin: How did you get into this eSports sort of world?
Dr. Rippee: I was working for one of the major companies here in Las Vegas. And we had an opportunity to host a tournament, and it turned out to be the first-ever eSports tournament ever held here in the city. And at the time, I had no idea what that meant when somebody said to me, "eSports," I was, "I don't know what that means." And they kind of explained it was Madden, and NBA2K, and FIFA, these three sports games. And I said, "Oh, I get that. I understand those games. I play them at home."
And I remember coming in on a Saturday to kinda watch and observe and learn, and I saw something I had never seen before. I saw a room absolutely filled to capacity with young people so engaged on what happening in there, that it was like, you know, the most incredible performance they'd ever seen. What were they watching? They were watching other players play video games on big screens. And just the intensity in the room and the passion that they had towards the activity that was going on told me something is going on. There's a phenomenon going on here that I don't understand, but I need to know more about it because this room is at capacity. I remember when we opened up for ticket sales to the event, it sold out in a couple of minutes. [inaudible 00:08:33].
Kevin: One young gamer once said to me that, you know, if they go to a basketball game, high school basketball game, they may pay attention. Some of their friends may pay attention. They pay attention for big moments. But to your point, he didn't phrase it quite like you, he did say, "But when we go to these games, you know, we're riveted. You know, our whole attention span is on that game." And that's why I talk about the generational aspect of it because I do think for, you know, folks in older generations don't understand how enraptured these young folks are by this and then the question becomes, "What do we do with that?"
Dr. Rippee: Part of it is turning all over their lives. This generation has grown up with this technology. They don't know a world without it.
Dr. Rippee: They don't know a world without smartphones. They don't know a world without video games. You and I do. So we see it as outsiders looking at a behavior that's peculiar to their generation. So, you know, there's some pretty significant amount of researchers and some very smart researchers around the world who spend a great deal of time, trying to understand where is this going and how does this benefit them, right? Okay. So it benefits us because that's fun. All right. That's a hedonic pleasure. Great. But is there anything else? You know, there is. There is a lot of research that supports soft skill development that happens as a result of playing video games. Soft skills like collaboration, teamwork, you know, strategic thinking, scenario building, all of those things which are required in these games because these games require skill.
Kevin: So, Dr. Rippee, eSport has kind of a dark reputation, but what are some of the advantages of eSports?
Dr. Rippee: You don't have to have physical ability to play a video game. So from that perspective, it's a broad net for inclusion. I think that's a fantastic part of gameplay like this. Second is that it can create new challenges and situations that we can't replicate in a physical world yet.
Kevin: Yeah. It's a whole brave new world. Look, I have one last question. This is what I really want to know. Where do you see the future of eSports for not just this country but the world?
Dr. Rippee: So I see it doing many different things. Of course, it will continue its trajectory as a form of pleasure. It's a game. They are fun to play, skill-based games. They will continue to improve with technology. If you've read the book "Ready Player One" or seen the movie, you remember he's wearing haptics. So he feels what he sees in the virtual world. So that suit is already a reality. We have one of them here in my lab.
I see games evolving to the point that we are immersed in the game. We're not playing the game on two-dimensional screens anymore. We're in the game. We're feeling the actions of the game. We're feeling the player or the ball brush up against us. We're feeling the thrill of driving the car in rocket league, you know, when it goes inverted and defies physics. We're beginning to have sensations that are not just visual. So our brain begins to interpret them as real. That was, I think, the point of "Ready Player One." So that's one.
On the other, I see a rapid, you know, correlation between games, and video games, and education. We've known for decades that gamifying education works. That teaching history and science via games... In fact, I ask my students... On the first class, I'll ask them to tell me what was the first video game you can ever remember playing. Overwhelmingly, the first game is not a game on Nintendo or a game on Xbox. It's Oregon Trail.
Dr. Rippee: They all remember Oregon Trail and they remembered it because it was fun. And they'll talk about it, "Oh, it's so fun. I love that game." And so, you know, you think about that was a game that taught history. So I think we see more, and I'm gonna use this term loosely, gamification in other elements of education because it works. It holds your interest, cognitive focus, teamwork, collaboration, quicker learning, all of those things.
So I think if I had to say two things, we're gonna see those two. I think growth in it as a professional sport is gonna continue its trajectory. We're gonna see professional teams. We're gonna see cities competing. You're already seeing 400 universities in the United States have varsity level eSports teams, 400. They're awarding scholarships to come and compete up on eSport at Ohio State, for example. So, you know, you're gonna continue to see that probably on an even greater scale. And eventually, that structure goes to high school, and high schools are competing at that same kind of organized level on that scale.
Kevin: Well, and I agree with your predictions. And by the way, I totally agree with you about gamification. We've seen it in our schools. If we're going to engage the otherwise unengaged, we gotta meet them where they are. And this is the way kids can connect with education and the future. I'm counting on you to help monitor it so we can get it right.
Dr. Rippee: It's a job for all of us. Thank you. But it takes an effort from all education professionals to get it right. That's the ones who are ultimately going to drive it.
Kevin: Well, Dr. Robert Rippee, thank you for joining us on "What I Want to Know." I appreciate having you.
Dr. Rippee: My pleasure.
Kevin: Thanks for joining "What I Want to Know." Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review too. Explore other episodes and dive into our discussions on the future of education. I also encourage you to join the conversation and let me know what you want to know using #wiwtk on social media. That's #wiwtk on social media. For more information on Stride, visit at stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want to Know."
Meet Dr. Rippee
Dr. Robert Rippee is an educator and entrepreneur who seeks to drive innovation through advanced technology deployment. He serves as the executive director of Black Fire Innovation Hub and the director of the Hospitality & Esports Innovation Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His work provides him a unique perspective on the e-sports revolution.
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What I Want to Know
In this podcast, you will hear from leaders in education as we talk through learning solutions for homeschool, online school, education pathways, and topics tailored specifically to online students and parents.