When starting an esports team a lot of time and consideration is spent meeting the needs of stakeholders like students, administrators, and the board of education. A vital, yet often overlooked stakeholder in your esports journey will be the IT department. The IT department is responsible for keeping a school’s network safe, purchasing and implementing new technology like the tech needed for your esports team, and ensuring compliance with safety and privacy laws for your district In many instances, IT departments also have direct input in or even authority over curricular use of technology including extracurricular technology-based programs. Whether it is before approval or when it comes time for implementation, the IT department is one of the most important stakeholders in your esports journey.
Over the last twenty years, the performance requirements and network demands of video games have increased dramatically. Most video games are now online only and are meant to be played with a global audience. These demands mean that it falls to the IT department to get your esports team up and running on your school’s equipment and network. Typically, the IT department will have to provide the needed bandwidth, port availability, and firewall exceptions for your game to be played on your school’s network on top of installing any needed software on school devices.
Schools that carry at least 1GB of bandwidth should not have problems with limitations of their trunk capacity, especially when considering time of play often falls in after school programs where there is less draw on network resources. Dedicated caching servers might also be an option to implement and run games effectively on your network if bandwidth constraints are proving to be a detriment. There are dedicated caching services available that provide game caching for many of the more popular esports games producers/platforms, such as Steam, Blizzard, and Riot. Additionally, some networks that have specific restrictions on port access may require the opening or forwarding of those ports in order for the game to function.
If the last paragraph overwhelms you, don’t worry. I talked to friend and Chief Technology Officer for the Rockaway Township BOE, Bebarce El-Tayib, to help us understand what to expect when it comes time to talk to the IT department about esports.
Bebarce says the most important thing you should do before coming to your IT department to get your esports team up and running is understand the common concerns an IT department will have about an esports team. By understanding the concerns your IT department may have, you can take the time to discuss them with all stakeholders so a plan can be put in place that works for everyone. Here are the most common concerns your IT department could have.
How is your program being funded?
One of the first concerns your IT department might have is how your team will be funded. If your esports program has not been budgeted for, there will be a concern about where the funding will be coming from. It is important that you determine an appropriate budget that includes equipment like monitors, game licensing, and potential accessories like controllers and environmental needs such as seating. If you can, you should also identify school approved vendors that sell what you need.
It is also important to plan for the unique funding issues that can arise when it comes to esports. For instance, if you are going to be playing on an Xbox, how will your school pay for the monthly subscription fee for Xbox Live, which is needed to play Xbox games online? What about a game license that needs to be purchased through Steam? Will students purchase the license on their own and sign into their Steam accounts at school or will the school setup Steam accounts and buy the licenses for students? Ideally, schools should make accounts for students and buy licenses for students using generic school email accounts ([email protected]), so that license isn’t tied to a specific individual. That way these generic accounts / licensees can be passed student-to-student, year after year. Generic accounts are also a good idea because generic accounts better conform to privacy laws schools have to follow. More on that in the next section.
Purchasing can be made more difficult by the fact that you usually can’t buy video game licensees with a purchase order. Figure out how licensing for your game can be purchased through your school. This might mean using a school credit card, buying gift cards in advance from vendors through purchase orders, or through reimbursement.
Has student privacy been considered?
The IT department is often tasked with making sure software is used in a manner that conforms with laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). It is important that you are able to answer privacy questions before talking to the IT department. Bebarce suggests doing the following:
Read and have ready for IT the ‘use’ policies associated with the games you want to play. Most commercial software like video games have something called an End-User License Agreement (EULA) that outlines the contract you are entering into with the company by using their software. Games also have a Terms of Service (TOS). TOS is similar to a EULA, but a TOS focuses on user behavior when using their software including the expected age of the user. Most games will also have privacy policies that outline what, if any, personally identifiable information is being collected about their users. Whatever policies your game may have, it is important you are familiar with them and make them available to the IT department.
During installation, companies will often ask for personal information like name, phone number, and address. Before going to IT, you should research, or even better install the game yourself, to determine what personal information is required from the user on setup. Decide if a generic school email account ([email protected]) can be used along with school information like school address and phone number, instead of students’ personal information to create an account. The best case scenario is that you are able to make accounts for students without using any of their personal information.
Aside from purchasing and installing the game, you also have to consider the location where gaming will occur. Is there already an established network, preferably a hard-wired connection or an access point, in the area? If not, IT will likely have to install the necessary equipment so you have the bandwidth needed not to lag while playing. This can add to the time and cost of getting a team up and running, so make sure you scout multiple locations for your team. Areas where a lot of students congregate, like the library, tend to have the best network infrastructure.
Many esports teams are interested in streaming their matches to a streaming platform like Twitch. Just as you should do your homework about the game you want to play, you should do your homework about streaming as well. Talk to stakeholders about streaming, the rules you will implement around it, and make sure to include expectations in your permission slip for parents and your conduct policy for students.
Sometimes you may need to do some convincing when working with the IT department. One of the most important things you can do when getting ready to talk to IT is reach out to existing esports programs, preferably ones playing the game you plan to play, and ask questions. Bonus points if the district is closer to yours. Precedent is the best thing you can have when trying to convince IT staff (all stakeholders, really). If you can point IT to multiple districts that have an esports team and speak to how they handle IT concerns, you are much more likely to convince a hesitant IT department. Ask districts with esports teams if they are willing to have their IT department talk to your IT department to help allay concerns, share implementation details, and troubleshooting best practices.
Last, and maybe most importantly, understand that getting an esports team up and running takes time. Give IT enough time to research, test, and implement everything you need to have a successful esports team. Remember the best way to cut down on the time and energy it takes IT to get your team up and running is to do your homework and come prepared with a plan of action that address the most common concerns your IT department may have. Your IT staff will thank you!
If you need more help getting your esports team off the ground, check out the guide I wrote to getting started with esports in education here.
Also, Bebarce has made an awesome table top game for kids called Power Outage. Check it out!
I have a book coming out, The EdCorps Classroom, tomorrow. It is a guide for teachers who are interested in integrating entrepreneurship into the classroom as a way to make learning real and relevant. You can check out the first chapter here and buy the book here!
Until Next Time