Academic Esports Conference and Expo: Show preview

Highlighting the program for the inaugural conference, which is focused exclusively on competitive video gaming and education.

We are in a transformative age, both in the ways we instruct our children and the ways that they are learning.

As Mr. Dylan noted, ‘the times they are a’ changin’—maybe now more than ever. Most of you have had to embrace distance learning. Most of you have had to find new ways to empower your staff and connect with students. And most of you are getting a first-hand look at the technology that has been embraced effortlessly by the young people at your schools.

Reaching students is paramount. We know they love to have to fun … and they enjoy tasks where they can learn and be empowered. One of the most enriching activities might surprise you: it’s esports. Young adults are not only playing for fun, but they are competing hard, collaborating in online worlds and creating real futures from their virtual experiences.

Through our years of covering education and technology as well as hosting successful tracks at our other signature shows FETC and UB Tech, we at LRP Media Group recognize how powerful the esports medium has become. So, we have launched a standalone event for video gaming and education called the Academic Esports Conference and Expo that will take place in Chicago in October. We have spent the past six months forming a world-class agenda that features the top thought-leaders in education and the industry’s brightest minds.

The event will bring together leaders from both higher education and K-12 to discuss the impact competitive video gaming—and its connection to learning—is having on colleges and universities from coast-to-coast. This three-day event will deliver an unparalleled number of sessions tailored to all levels, from those looking to start up programs to those that already have advanced programs in place.

Dr. Jay Prescott, Executive Director of NAECAD, is one of the featured speakers at this year’s conference. NAECAD is also co-hosting its national convention at the show.

Check the agenda here: See who will be speaking at the Academic Esports Conference.

Among the conference’s highlights is a signature track, Academic Development, that is entirely focused on competitive gaming’s application in the classroom, as well as impactful instructional strategies, course ideas and best practices that position students for future paths through esports. Many of the sessions were developed by the outstanding research team at the University of California, Irvine, including our opening keynote from Constance Steinkuehler as well as the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), which offers academic and scholastic resources, including state-approved high school esports curriculum and support for schools.

Another program partner, the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD), has offered up a number of learning sessions and top speakers, including the esports industry’s Kevin Hoang of Twitch and Matthew Birris of Riot Games. Some of the top instructors from colleges that are putting esports and learning opportunities from this field front and center on campus, including DePaul University, Boise State University and the University of Kentucky.

Keynote speakers

The Academic Esports Conference features two highly acclaimed keynote speakers – Dr. Constance Steinkuehler, Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, and Adam Garry, Senior Director of Strategy Education for Dell. Steinkuehler will present on “The Intellectual Life of Esports” and the benefits of having an academically enriched esports program, while Garry will discuss “Breaking Down Silos: Connecting K-12 and Higher Education” and building a collaborative pipeline that puts students on a path to success through esports as they grow from children to teens to young adults.

Distance learning works with esports

We have seen the power that esports can have, even when a shutdown of all campus activities occurs, as with the coronavirus pandemic. The Academic Esports Conference is uniquely positioned to address these challenges with several sessions that will address head-on how to leverage esports as part of an overall distance learning plan. Because esports is an online-first portal, it is one of the very few extracurricular activities that still can be playing when all other programs are halted. Speakers will discuss both the benefits and the inherent obstacles that this kind of environment presents to higher education institutions.

Gaming up close

What would any esports event be without an esports arena? The expo floor at the conference will be highlighted by a stage filled with live competitions and demonstrations, shoutcasters, and instructors who will provide feedback on the games being played. Attendees not only will be able to see and experience the latest technology and hardware offerings on the show floor, but also be able to connect and network with a variety of vendors to help explain the latest education innovations and opportunities.

Technology matters

The driving force behind esports is technology and infrastructure. The IT track features 12 sessions that will help attendees get their programs off the ground … or take it to the next level. Some of the top experts in esports—from companies such as Twitch and HP, as well as IT directors at some of the biggest K-12 districts in the nation—will show participants what’s possible as they build or rebuild through technology. Some of the topics will include:

  • An introduction to the video games being played to hottest technologies on the market
  • Outfitting your program, startup needs and working with vendors and bundlers
  • How to turn a computer lab into a competitive arena for less than $5,000
  • How to take your arena from good to great
  • Understanding how live streaming is shaping education
Photo courtesy of University of Florida

Emerging trends

To truly leverage esports, it helps to be on the cutting edge. Because of the changing nature of the games and the technology, it is vital that esports directors and their athletes keep pace. This track will discuss the future of esports in schools, the need to diversify and be more inclusive, the benefits of embracing emerging tech such as virtual reality, and how faculty can help students build a virtual professional development portfolio. The ET track also will look at the wellness of athletes as well as best practices to ensure they remain healthy and empowered.

Chris Burt is program chair for the Academic Esports Conference & Expo and the Esports Editor for University Business. Contact him at

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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