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STEM Skills in Gaming and Esports

March 29, 2019

STEM is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- but it’s more than the individual disciplines, or even the combination of those. It also incorporates collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills and mindsets that are necessary in today’s world.


When people think of applying STEM skills to video games, the first thought is often in the creation and development of the product. It is absolutely true that this career path relies heavily on many STEM skills. What many don’t realize is that these skills are just as important to successfully playing the games as well, whether casually or professionally.


Critical thinking and problem solving skills often develop for a gamer before they even realize it. In many of the traditional level/story mode based games that we played as kids, players eventually ran into a level or “boss” that they just couldn’t beat. Some kids would just walk away frustrated, but many more turned into little scientists without realizing it. First comes the critical thinking. After discovering that this is not just another small challenge to brush past, the determination sets in. You sit up straighter, pay more attention, and take a closer look at everything. Are there clues in the cut scene leading up to the fight? Do the attacks or traps come in a pattern that you can exploit? Are there slight color or texture differences that could indicate a weakness you might have missed?


If still unable to pass the level, research often comes next. Consulting a player handbook (textbooks), internet forums (peer reviewed articles), or your friends (research team) will often yield successful results, and you can beat the level, only to proceed to more difficult tasks.


In many of today's popular multiplayer games, extensive teamwork is needed on top of these previously built skills. Though sometimes you form a team on your own, you more often find yourself starting each game with a newly assembled group, and have only minutes to develop the optimal team composition to find success. Sometimes you are stuck with this composition for the entire match, so it has to be a good one! In games like Overwatch though, characters can be changed at any time, and this teamwork must be continuously used to adapt the team's playstyle.


Along with just choosing which characters to play, teamwork is vital throughout all stages of the game. The most interesting part of this is that it is boiled down to the basics, and built in an instant. There are no icebreakers, no team building exercises, and no background knowledge of each other. You are given a team, and it is up to you whether you want to work together and adapt to what is needed, or try to work independently and fail.


A Deep Dive into Math


It’s no surprise that basic math is needed for many aspects of gaming and esports, just like everyday life. This is especially true in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game League of Legends. From determining your damage output to budgeting your gold for buying items, the game is full of numbers. However, what many might not realize is that there are much more complex and fast paced calculations needed to be successful at higher levels.


One aspect of the game that requires some more in-depth thinking is item efficiency. When trying to maximize your damage in the game as a marksman, increasing your Physical Damage is important. However, there are many other factors that must be considered. Depending on the champion that you and your opponents are playing as, it might be more efficient to spend varying portions of your gold on stats such as Armor Penetration, Attack Speed, and Critical Strike Chance. Each of these statistics are increased by items that cost gold, so each game you will have to budget your items appropriately to maximize your damage output.


While some calculations in the game like item budgeting can