”For boys, relationships and knowing they belong – knowing that they have a place – are all very important.”

Deputy Principal Allison Elcoate has noticed a change in some of her students over the past six months. Ignatius Park College’s League of Legends club has only been running since October, but it’s already provided an opportunity for over 50 students to meet new friends and engage with a passion that their school had previously overlooked: gaming.

A Different Kind of Competition

“We are a very well-known sporting school,” Elcoate tells us. ““Some great NRL players – people like Michael Morgan, Valentine Holmes, Scott Prince and Aidan Guerra – have come from our school. We’re a bit of a breeding ground in that area.”

Sport has been a staple of student education for generations. It’s been a sure-fire way to engage with and teach important hard and soft skills to students, but Allison has been acutely aware of those who sat on the fringe of her school.

“I’ve found that most of the students who wanted this they’re… not disengaged from school, they’re the sorts of students who could do really well except what happens is they don’t have a niche. They didn’t have a place where they felt part of the community. It’s not like they caused trouble or anything, they simply flew under the radar so they didn’t get noticed,” says Elcoate.

As we transition to a digital world, we’re seeing more and more situations like this: where student interest is turning to an online space and educators are struggling to adapt. Here, students see school as a thing that’s compulsory, not something to actively engage with. Unlike other students, their major passion doesn’t have a connection at many schools. They’re not excited to head to rugby training or play guitar in the school band, they’re just going through the motions.

So when Elcoate was approached by a group of year 10 students to start a LoL club, she said  “Okay, fine, I’ll do it” and took the leap.

The Holistic Approach

“We’re an Edmund Rice Education Australia school,” Elcoate tells us, one of many across Australia and New Zealand. These schools teach in the spirit of the missionary who brought education to those on the outskirts of society, and Ignatius Park’s club is no exception here.

“These are the sorts of principles that make up what this club is,” asserts Elcoate. “For us it’s part of our holistic education. We educate the whole child, that’s our major mission. To me, this is vital.”

League of Legends in no way takes precedence over a student’s holistic education – in fact Elcoate has gone to great lengths to ensure there are rules in place that promote a balanced lifestyle because in Elcoate’s words: “we believe academics have to come first, academics and family.” But Eloate is aware that to encourage growth, it’s crucial to understand what drives each individual student.  

“These are the sorts of boys that we celebrate being nerds. We love it! They’re the sort of kids that just really are into it (gaming). In the past, they were either teased for this or didn’t worry about it, they didn’t tell people what their passions were. But now their passions are being celebrated.”

For many students, this is a rarity. It’s often hard for a parent to enquire or engage with a student’s digital life when it’s something they know very little about, and at school these students can be bullied for not pursuing more traditional interests. But Elcoate was aware of the stigma around gaming.

“I’m a bit of a gamer myself,” she tells us, “and there’s a lot of negative press out there. They believe that – because bad things can happen online and on computers – students should avoid it altogether, that they shouldn’t be playing.  A lot of parents don’t really understand how it works – but it’s not just parents, it’s also teachers. For myself, and some of the boys on the team, we believe it should be the other way: where you learn how to do it properly and you learn how to be safe. That’s what we focus on.”

A State of Change

“A lot of the boys – these very, very quiet boys – are now coming out of their shells,” Elcoate tells us.

Before the club was formed, a large chunk of the students involved were already playing League of Legends, but now they have a place where they can engage with other students at school.

“We’ve created that safety net, where these boys can be themselves and make friends. They now have someone they know face-to-face, and they can talk to them about it the next day. I’ve had boys who, when they realised this was actually going to go ahead, were excited and emotional because they finally had something in the school suited to them.”

While this initial connection to the student is important, Ignatius Park’s League of Legends club has been able to teach its students a better way to engage online. Previously, students had gone into the space without guidance, but there’s been a significant change since they’ve begun playing at school.

“Now, there’s more of a camaraderie between them; they’re making friends outside their grades. I’ve noticed that they, particularly our older boys, help each other along. I have seen them even say to each other: ‘Hey mate, give him a go – he’s just learning.’ It’s their online behaviour that’s changed the most.”

The Future

With the High School League of Legends Australian & New Zealand Championship almost here, Elcoate’s club have been running tryouts to decide the final two teams that will represent the school in the national competition.

“The boys are being assessed on their individual performance as well as how they perform as a team,” says Ecloate. But it’s not only their skill level that’s being graded, entry is also based on their mastery of sportsmanship skills, such as teamwork and respect.

“I’m using the resources that are on the high school page – the one, two, three and four stars [see: the Aspects of Sportsmanship] – to be able to judge them on how they play together and independently.”

For these boys, this is an opportunity to represent their school in a competitive space, something they may have never had the opportunity to do before.

“For the other boys, they can still compete against each other, but we’re also looking at connecting with some other schools. At the moment, they really enjoy competing against each other.”

A club can be started at any school by any teacher. If you’re interested in starting a club like Ignatius Park’s at your school, head to our Start a Club page to find out more.