Academic Esports Conference and Expo announces agenda

The three-day event features nearly 60 sessions with academic and esports experts who will address needs at both K-12 and higher education and offer strategies, guidance and best practices.

The Academic Esports Conference & Expo on Tuesday unveiled the agenda for its inaugural show, which features a powerful lineup of education and esports presenters from school districts, colleges and the esports industry.

Scheduled for the Hilton Chicago from October 19-21, the event is highlighted by nearly 60 sessions over five distinct tracks – Starting Up, Advanced Level, Academic Development, Technology/Infrastructure and Emerging Trends – that cater to a variety of attendees, from those looking to build esports in their schools or enhance established programs, or for those looking to network with experts in the field.

Among the featured speakers at the three-day event are leaders in competitive video gaming – Kevin Hoang of Twitch, Matt Birris of Riot Games and William Collis of Team Genji – as well as those who drive esports at the K-12 level, such as Jason Kirby of Generation Esports, and those making a huge splash at the college level, such as Kirsten Turner and Eric Monday of the University of Kentucky.

“It’s an amazing collection of thought-leaders and gaming experts for a first show,” says Chris Burt, Program Chair for the Academic Esports Conference & Expo. “We are especially proud to provide conference sessions that aren’t solely focused on esports play, but that have academic components tied to them. Esports has given our young people a world of opportunities beyond the games, and we want to be a conduit for helping foster those positive outcomes while inspiring conversation and sparking future success for the next generation.”

Two program partners – the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) and the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) – were instrumental in helping develop an array of sessions and panels on topics relevant to the growing field of esports, everything from digital citizenship to connected learning to the development of esports majors at colleges and universities.

NASEF also constructed two of the conference’s signature panels, including a Women in Esports panel that features world-renowned Tekken gamer Jennail “Cuddle_Core” Carter and Equinox Gaming CEO Emily Tran.

“I can’t say enough about the guidance, perspective and leadership that NASEF and NAECAD provided from the start on this show,” Burt says. “They truly understand the space and are genuinely devoted to the mission of providing a positive learning environment for students interested in esports. I think the program’s sessions display that level of commitment.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Constance Steinkuehler, Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine and a former White House Senior Policy Analyst for video games, will kick off the event on Day 1, while Adam Garry, Senior Director of Education Strategy for Dell Technologies, will open Day 2 of the show.

One of the standout features of the Academic Esports Conference is the number of high-level academic presenters, including acclaimed UC-Irvine professor and cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito; Dr. Jay Prescott of NAECAD and Grand View University; Dr. Katrina Adkins, Senior Program Director for K-12 and Higher Education at SHI International; John Cash, Professor of Marketing and Esports, Johnson C. Smith University; Marialice B.F.X. Curran, the Founder and Executive Director of the Digital Citizenship Institute in Massachusetts; and Dr. Kristy Custer, Principal at Complete Maize High School in Kansas and the co-author of the esports curriculum Gaming Concepts.

In addition, featured speakers will presents on these popular topics:

  • Courtney James, Director of Student Involvement for program partner DePaul University, on bystander intervention;
  • Daniel Wehrenfenning, Executive Director of the Olive Tree Initiative, on diversity in esports;
  • Dr. Avis Williams, Superintendent of Selma Schools in Alabama, on equity in low-income schools through esports; and
  • Terry Kraft, Chief Esports Strategist at the Emerald Foundation in Pennsylvania, on  guidance with smart grants.

“We are incredibly fortunate to not only have such an accomplished group of speakers on hand, but to also have them discussing topics that really hit home for all schools,” Burt says. “Their sessions, and others in the program, address issues that affect gamers, students, faculty and parents. Administrators looking for insight on how to best operate esports should look at these sessions for guidance.”

The agenda was recently updated to include a number of sessions that are either focused on, or will address, remote game play forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Kirby of Generation Esports, which oversees the High School Esports League and new Middle School Esports League, and James O’Hagan of the Racine (Wis.) Unified School District will discuss how leagues and schools have had to pivot their offerings, while talking about issues related to distance learning and playing.
  • Armand Buzzelli of Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania will address how college players have had to adapt to the changes; and
  • The Samueli Foundation’s Gerald Solomon and Laylah Bulman along with Kevin Brown of the Orange County (Calif.) Department of Education will discuss some of the initiatives NASEF has forged during the shutdown.

“Esports has continued to operate through the pandemic, but there have been big challenges, most notably around equity and accessibility,” Burt says. “We would be hard-pressed to hold an esports conference without addressing those issues and offering up solutions, as so many of the organizations smartly and efficiently have recently – the Community Club efforts by NASEF and the tournaments being held by the High School Esports League, NACE, EGF, PlayVs and the Varsity Esports Foundation.”

The Academic Esports Conference also will put a spotlight on health and wellness, as registered dietitian Ellen Davis, licensed mental health counselor Kent Schornack of Grand View University in Iowa and Dr. Hallie Zwibel of the New York Institute of Technology’s Center for Esports Medicine will all discuss strategies and best practices for esports student-athletes.

Two of the most talked-about tracks undoubtedly will be Technology/Infrastructure and Emerging Trends. Two dozen experts will discuss equipment needs, how to develop and build out spaces on campus and how to choose the right hardware, software and technology partners.

Among the highlights: Josh Knutson of Bytespeed will talk about next steps for virtual reality; Dr. Chris Haskell of Boise State University will address the power of building community around a great esports arena; and Matthew Benson of eFuse will discuss the importance of students having gaming portfolios. Several other technology leaders also will present on topics related to K-12, including Don Soyinthisane from Fresno Unified School District, Kyle Berger of Grapevine-Colleyville School District, Jack Kelanic of Dallas Independent School District and Eugene Baker of Miami-Dade County Schools.

Registration for the event is open on the Academic Esports Conference website. The event also will feature a large Expo Floor with exhibitors, a Gaming Arena and Gear Up Zone for speakers.

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