Steven van Garderen works in the Technology Faculty at Manurewa High School in Auckland, New Zealand. We asked him to share his story.

Each year Manurewa High school runs a program called REWAlise for Year 9 and 10 students. This is where teachers run a special program for three days, in which they take a passion that is important to them, and teach it to the kids. My own personal passion just happens to be gaming, and in particular for this group, I decided to run a League of Legends studio. This involved two parts. Firstly, introducing new players to the game and secondly, to run a small tournament to find out who is the best in our school.

While running this program at school we had to jump through a few hurdles. The first one was getting permission and the second one was figuring out how to do it. Fortunately, because of the nature of this REWAlise, getting permission was easy since they knew how gaming was important to the kids. The second part was figuring out how to do this in the school environment.

Fortunately for me, the school is well equipped with computers so I was able to access 4 rooms next to each other, which gave me about 100 computers at my disposal. Next was figuring out how to load all these computers and get them up and running. This is where the tech team came in and figured out how to download to one computer, then load it at the same time to 99 other machines. After some testing, which I particularly enjoyed, we had the settings right and extended the internet flow, and it was all running smoothly.

Next step was getting the students involved. So out went the invitation to about 800 Year 9 and 10 students. In no time I had students coming up to me and begging to be let in. In fact I allowed for 100 students and had more than 400 put it down as their first option choice. I was amazed but not surprised by the response. The fact was that many of the students already knew about League of Legends and were mad keen to be involved.

Once word got out to other teachers about what I was doing, it was interesting to see the response. Some teachers gave the usual, ‘gaming is a waste of time” speech but most were jealous. The simple reason was that they realised that this was something that the students WANTED to do. So for me I didn’t need to sell the idea to students. All I had to do was make it enjoyable for them.

When the program started it pretty much ran itself. When all the students were in the room I talked about what it means to be a gamer, how to respect other players, and also talked about how to game responsibly. To me that means that gaming should not become your life, instead gaming should be something that is part of life. I explained that as an adult I use gaming as a reward at the end of the day, once everything else is done. Yes it’s a passion and I love gaming, however it is not what I live for.

After that I got all the students to pair up, one newbie with one student who already had experience in the game. They became the mentor, helped them set up an account and then ran through the basics of the game. Showing them basic movements, skills upgrades and how to use items. This became an important part of the team building.

As the three days progressed it was easy to see that the students who were new to League of Legends were getting better. We ran some workshops on in-game skills and even had the students do informal challenges amongst each other. All this lead up to the last day where we ran a tournament. We had the students in the first two days set themselves up into teams of 5, then had the “newbie” and the “pro” tournament. Ending up with some fantastic finals that really showed the class and skill of these players.

One of the features of these three days was the way other teachers came into the rooms to look at what was happening. A common theme from these visitors was the fact that they couldn’t believe how focused the students were. Some teachers even commented that they should join this group next time because it looks easy to monitor the student’s behaviour. The answer from me was always the same. I would look at them and smile and say, “Well of course it’s easy, it’s what the students like to do”.

While running this tournament over the three days I was impressed by several things. Most importantly was the students’ dedication and behaviour. For three days the students arrived on time and worked together in the room, talking amongst each other, sharing information about their favourite champion, different item builds and best ways to play the game. In fact anyone who plays games realise this is a whole new language. Talking about ganking, lanes, jungling, tanks, healers, support, warding and so much more becomes a foreign language for outsiders. However, for those who understand, it brings you together.

During that time, and almost every day since I have students come up to me and ask me who is my favourite hero? Have I played any new games? This allows a teacher and student to communicate in a more personal way. It gives a common ground that makes each of us, both players and gamers equal.

I have run this group two years in a row, and each year they want it bigger than the last to supply the needs for the students. However space and computer access does put some limitations on what I can do. Being at Manurewa High School helps since we do have access to so many machines. I would love to see this League of Legends grow. Prior to talking to Riot I have often wanted to have more workshops. Why can’t this be like other sports in the school? Interschool challenges, training, coaches and even sponsorships?

My own son often asks me if I had the chance would I leave teaching to becoming a professional and sponsored gamer? Well, I might have left that a little late, my reaction time like the rest of me, is slowing down, however the fact is that this is now becoming an option just as realistic as being a professional rugby player. So why not in schools? To actually have gaming like League of Legends as an extracurricular group – that’s exactly what I would like to see happening.