UNC Greensboro’s Esports Arena and Learning Lab was buzzing this weekend as student gamers and educators gathered for its second E2 Weekend.
On February 3, nearly 50 North Carolina high school educators participated in the Unreal Engine Accelerator Experience, a full-day seminar on how to use Epic Games’ real-time 3D development tools Unreal Engine and Fortnite Creative, and how to integrate them in the classroom. The following morning, more than 27 UNCG media studies students and faculty attended a training session focused on virtual video production and broadcasting using Unreal Engine.
Once all the training was complete, the arena exploded with tournament action as collegiate and high school gamers battled in Spartan Clash featuring Rocket League. Online qualifying rounds narrowed the field from over 100 to 32 players, who faced off in teams of two for cash prizes totaling $2500.
Extending Esports Education to High Schools
UNCG, in collaboration with Epic Games, organizes these weekends of training and esports tournaments in an effort to explore ways to harness today’s popular gaming culture to connect with students and educate them for high-tech jobs in emerging industries like esports.
It’s an initiative that fills a need for many state high schools.
“Our partnership with SparkNC really led to greater awareness and overall response by secondary educators” said David Wyrick, interim director of Launch UNCG. He has championed UNCG’s leadership in esports education. ”We are finding that high schools are hungry for curriculum applications of gaming technology. It’s a great way to connect with students through a language that they already speak.”
Minh McNicholas, a 6th-grade science teacher at Northwest Middle School, was energized by his participation in E2 Weekend. “I started our Gamers Unite club during the COVID year as a way for students to interact from their homes. What started out as a club with just a few members has evolved and leveled up in so many ways! We explore everything from robots, games, technology, coding, digital citizenship, streaming, graphic design, and gaming etiquette. I am so excited to see what Unreal Engine has in store for the world of education.”
Dr. Stan Winborne, associate superintendent of Granville County Schools, was also struck by what he learned in the Unreal Engine Accelerator Experience. “I’ve seen students play video games, but this is so much more. It’s a portal for students to be able to create.”
The high number of registrations from North Carolina high schools for E2 Weekend was particularly encouraging as UNCG builds its end-to-end pipeline for the esports industry through the UNCG Scholastic Esports Alliance (UNCG SEA), which was launched in January. Entering its pilot season this spring, UNCG SEA will give high school esports teams a forum to compete in statewide tournaments to be held at UNCG’s Esports Arena. UNCG will also provide schools in the alliance with an esports curriculum. So far, over 50 high schools have signed up.
Winborne’s Granville County district includes high schools that have signed up for UNCG SEA. The training during E2 Weekend was his first opportunity to see the arena and get a taste of the curriculum they’ll have access to.
“When our students are able to participate in this league, it’s really going to provide an opportunity for students who don’t traditionally participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. It will be amazing for them to come to this facility at UNCG, which is state-of-the-art.”
Spartan Clash Hits with Students
Students who participated in the Spartan Clash featuring Rocket League during E2 Weekend also had rave reviews about UNCG’s Esports Arena and Learning Lab.
“UNCG’s arena was amazing. I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Santiago Orozco Buri, a UNC Charlotte gamer whose team placed second in the Spartan Clash. ”It’s very high tech and, you know…popping! Gamers want to play in there!”
Thanks to UNCG’s partnership with Epic Games, Orozco Buri was on a placing team that took home an impressive cash prize. First place winners Rhys Pena from UNC-Chapel Hill and Jack Pruden from Ravenscroft School in Raleigh won $500 each and a year’s supply of Pepsi. Orozco Buri and his partner Charles Purrington from UNC Charlotte won $350 each. Third place went to Ethan Engstrom and Naycen Arellano from Dixon High School, and fourth to Garrett Palmer and Jacob Casey from Guilford Technical Community College. These four won $200 each for their third and fourth place finishes. The tournament action was live streamed so fans could watch the exciting matches.
Esports and Education is a Win-Win Initiative
For these players, E2 Weekend was especially fruitful, but there were many winners at E2 Weekend. All Spartan Clash qualifiers enjoyed the opportunity to compete in person at UNCG’s state-of-the-art arena, and educators at the E2 Weekend seminars were excited to learn from Epic Games and use the Unreal Engine software free of charge. This emotion is proof that esports is here to stay and that there is space for UNCG to be North Carolina’s leader in the academic side of gaming.
Steve Isaacs, Education Program Manager at Epic Games, said it best when he addressed the room full of educators on Friday afternoon. “Smart people from different industries have taught us the range of uses for Unreal Engine. Our mission is to see kids creating cool stuff with our tools. And now we are entrusting educators to help us with that mission.” UNCG is a proud partner in this mission to prepare young minds for technology careers of the future.
Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications.
Videography by Grant Gilliard, University Communications.