“Gaming fosters interest-based communities where collaborative learning and mutual growth meet fast paced, high stakes competition.”

- Stephen Paolini, High School Starleague Administrator

Nearly 60% of Americans play video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, consumers spent $20.77 billion on games 2012. This may leave the remaining 40% of Americans wondering what all the fuss is about.

Since launching MentorMob’s comprehensive, easy-to-use Starcraft II guide, I’ve met several inspiring gamers who share our passion for self-directed, collaborative learning. They’ve helped me understand just how challenging, exciting, and rewarding gaming can be–and how much the worlds of eSports and disruptive educational technology overlap.

Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft II is the first and oldest game to be played by professional gamers. It’s a real-time strategy PC game in which players control one of three races’ armies in the far future: the heavily mechanized Terran, insectoid Zerg, or telekinetic Protoss.

Watching two players compete against each other is roughly analogous to a lightning-fast game of speed chess where each side tries to outmaneuver the other simultaneously. Players can also play through a Campaign mode to follow the storyline behind the races, but all competitive play features two players squaring off against each other in Multiplayer mode.

Believe it or not, you probably know somebody who’s a gamer. Along with Starcraft II, new team based PC games like League of Legends and Dota 2 have recently gained so much popularity that professional gaming as a whole seems poised for explosive growth.

And while some gamers indeed fit the stereotype of the smart, introverted nerd who prefers to socialize digitally, I’ve discovered that eSports fans are as passionate and multifaceted as any other sports fans.

starcraft champion

Young gamers like Stephen Paolini and his Collegiate Starleague Administrator counterpart Timothy Young have shown me that gaming is a critical part of training up a generation of leaders with critical thinking and real time decision making skills.

Stephen describes his high school Starcraft community as one of “competition and mutual growth”, that evolved into a student club called Meeting of the Minds, which meets with the goal of raising awareness for “emotional intelligence, civic activism, and teacher mentorship in education.”

Timothy is a graduate student in the Masters of Science program for Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. On top of volunteering his time to help manage the Collegiate StarLeague, Tim is also researching the role of community learning in the world of competitive gaming. As part of this, he’s creating his own digital platform that facilitates mentoring and coaching for the community.

Video games have been under attack since their invention as being huge time sinks. But is it possible that gaming might actually help prepare the young leaders of tomorrow better than many high school and college courses?

During a time when education reform pioneers like the MacArthur Foundation are putting more and more emphasis on gamifying learning to create positive behavioral changes, it seems a fair bet that education policy and hard core gaming are destined to one day meet in the middle.

Being a part of these digital communities provides experiences in designing and maintaining new social groups, and playing the games that bring the communities together means gathering and managing a constant flow of new information.

As Kurt Squire, director of the Games, Learning, & Society Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison mentioned in a recent interview with edutopia.org, “having to customize your interface to get the information that you need to do better is a fundamental skill. And it happens in something like Starcraft as well. It’s very similar to doing civic participation in the sense of players figuring out what kind of information they are getting, where can they get more, what don’t they know yet, etc.”

Perhaps gaming is teaching our next generation to be the engaged problem solvers we need.