More than just education and sports

Nordic eSports key to future business development and improving young lives

Esports

Photo: DBK
Young people come together at eSports LAN (local area network) at Drammen Ballklubb in Drammen, Norway.

MICHAEL KLEINER
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Can one thing solve so many problems that are not necessarily intertwined? Can that thing be video games and eSports? Are video games a sport? Six speakers presented the tall order in a side session Sept. 20 at the Nordic Edge Expo (Sept. 20-23). There were people who attended in Stavanger and those who watched online.

John Arne Gaard Nilsen,

esports

Photo courtesy of John Arne Gaard Nilsen
John Arne Gaard Nilsen, teacher and CEO of Einherjar eSports team at Revheim Skole in Stavanger.

Teacher, Revheim Skole, Stavanger, co-founder /CEO of Einherjar eSport team

John Arne Gaard Nilsen is a 26-year-old teacher with a master’s degree in history didactics and a video game playing resumé that began when he was 3 years old. Two-and-a-half years ago, he started incorporating video games into the curriculum at Revheim and was subsequently asked to create an afterschool eSports club. Gjensidige Foundation provided funding for a state-of-the-art computer lab, which opened in September 2019.

In one instance, he showed a student exploring the French Revolution using the game Assassin’s Creek, which had reconstructed the time setting.

“Being able to go back in time and experience how the streets of Paris felt, that is something only video games can do,” said Nilsen. “You can watch a movie. If you don’t want to continue to watch the movie, the movie continues without you. Video games gives [students] the ability to feel they are actually participating in the video game or the story itself, and nothing will happen unless they press buttons.”

Nilsen emphasizes that actions in games are the springboard to discussion.

“Video games engage the pupils, and that should be our main goal as teachers,” he said. “We as teachers have to be talking to them in order to instigate learning. The games don’t necessarily teach them the curriculum on their own. We have to make sure they learn it by giving them tasks to do, reflections, doing what we always do to make a good framework for learning, whether it’s video games, movies, or books.”

esports

Photo: Haven
A Haven staffer watches a girl play a video game at the Nordic Edge Expo in Stavanger. Many attended the three-day event in person, and the sessions were also broadcast online.

Cultural importance: eSports

Think of a sport or after-school activity that draws 100 enthusiastic boys and girls daily. You’d be hard-pressed, but that is happening with Nilsen’s Einherjar eSport team. The translation of the Norse word “einherjar” is, “one who belongs to an army.” According to a 2020 Norwegian media study, 96% of Norwegian youth, ages 9 to18, play video games. 

“We are giving children a chance to be a part of something bigger, belonging, giving them a metaphorical battleground to hone and practice their skills every day in a controlled environment,” said Nilsen. 

“It’s just not looking at it as a part-time activity. We do the same thing that soccer teams, ice hockey teams, basketball teams, all the established ‘normal sports’ are doing …. The definition of eSports is ‘playing video games organized with the goal of competing against others in an organized environment, which is the same as other sports.’”

The barrier is a negative attitude toward gaming, that it’s an obsession. 

“We, as a society, and perhaps even parents, don’t accept it as a meaningful activity,” said Nilsen. “That is part of the cultural revolution at hand. We have massive groups of kids playing video games who don’t necessarily feel it is meaningful in any way. We at Einherjar want to bring parents here to cheer for their kids playing a video game just as they would kids playing soccer.

“It’s our job to be role models for our kids. We need to give them recognition for what they are doing. What would happen if you started encouraging these kids instead of discouraging them? Instead of telling them not to play so much, encourage them to play better, more organized, with good training?”

esports

Photos courtesy of John Arne Gaard Nilsen
Left: Three 15-year-old students at Revheim Skole in Stavanger work together playing the game, This War of Mine, where they try to survive during a siege of the city.
Right: A 14-year-old student explores the French Revolution using the game Assassin’s Creek, which has reconstructed the time setting.

eSports from a sports club perspective

André Baumann, project leader, Bredde E-Sport alliansen

André Baumann says there are “at least 50 eSports teams in Norway, [with] many more to come.” But what can help them get started and be successful? Being part of an established sports club organization is the answer. For Baumann, it’s a win-win situation. 

The eSports athletes have a set of different requirements and needs in starting up. While other sports require uniforms, eSports athletes need computers, reliable, stable internet access (preferably fiber-optic), and a location with a strong cyber connection. This makes it more costly to get started, just to be competitive. Then there are coaches.

“One of the most prominent difficulties with eSports, at least when starting, is getting good coaching,” said Baumann. “You have to have coaches who are very good in a communicative way, have some in-depth knowledge about the games, and able to bring value to the kids who are playing eSports.”

What clubs can provide eSports, says Baumann, are “resources, structure and organization, and building on shared values of sports teams.”

“You get the organizational and structural competencies from the already organized sports teams, which can be very valuable when starting something new,” he said. “It also builds on the shared values of sports teams that have been the foundation in sports for a long time, the four keywords: joy, health, community, honesty. These keywords are really important when establishing eSports as something as organized, healthy, something to develop, and evolve in sports.”

Keys to the future are “connecting the eSports resources in Norway and a unifying organization that preserves eSports activity as a whole.” 

esports

Photo courtesy of Simon Sakkestad
Simon Sakkestad, CEO at Master Blaster AS, at the company kickoff.

Onboarding – how should schools begin with game pedagogy and eSports

Morten Frankrig, project manager, training at Altibox AS; board member, Norsk eSport Forbund; board chair, Einherjar 

Morten Frankrig, still a “passionate gamer,” lists the keys to success: school management, parents, coaches, and finances.

School management:  It seems obvious: “You need to involve the school management.” You have to find a hook. At Revheim, the principal was a gamer. “That was a good starting point,” said Frankrig. “We started a dialogue with him and ended up starting an eSports club on the school premises. This turned out to be good idea for both parties. We (Gjensidige Foundation) funded a state-of-the-art computer lab, and the school got to use the computers during school hours.”

Parents: As with any school activity, parental involvement is critical. “At school meetings, get the parents on board,” said Frankrig. “Make an informative presentation about what you’re going to establish. Seek out parents who have a passion for it. You also need someone who just wants to contribute monetarily. Someone has to do the financing. Someone has to do the sporting arrangements. Not all gamers are organizers.”

esports

Photo courtesy of Simon Sakkestad
The Master Blaster logo and Simon Sakkestad, CEO of Master Blaster. Sakkestad hopes his products will help counter the school dropout rate, unemployment, crime, social behavior, inequities in skill levels, other social ills, and engage adults in the games.

Coaches: Frankrig is optimistic about finding coaches, especially in schools. 

“It’s very hard to find good eSport coaches, so find your own,” he says. “Look for them in the school first, among teachers, school staff. Find out who the gamers are. They’re out there …. This is really important work for the future, to train the students coming up for coaching.”

Finances: School activities need money, and eSports require more. “This is by far the most difficult task you will face,” said Frankrig. “Be patient and diligent … In our experience, many foundations and local businesses will find this interesting and contribute. Start small and build things up.”

The new everyday life within a digital arena

Simon Sakkestad, chair, Master Blaster

Can Master Blaster master the solutions to counter the school dropout rate, unemployment, crime, social behavior, inequities in skill levels, other social ills, and engaging adults in the games?

Simon Sakkestad also works for Altibox, which is looking for ways to have a social imprint. Sakkestad is involved in developing Master Blaster, which will have a soft launch of its beta version Oct. 25 at the first national school tournament, with a targeted launch date in 2022, culminating a two-year project.

“The most important reason we’re developing Master Blaster is, in the worst case, we make a small positive impact in the world,” he said. “The best case, we make money and reinvest and make an even bigger positive impact.”

Sakkestad identifies the major problems they aim to solve: 

Large groups of youth fall outside of society at a young age; 

Every young person who drops out of school costs society NOK 10-12 million;

This can lead to a vicious cycle of unemployment, social problems, and crime.

“We suspect the lack of comfort zones at school is a vital part of the problem,” he said. “What if we could move the potential dropouts from the outer orbit where there is complete chaos to a place where they’re comfortable?” 

But the proper organizational team structure is key. For one to get “joy” from the activity, inexperienced gamers can’t play experienced gamers and inexperienced players can’t play high level games right away. Master Blaster hopes to “lower this threshold significantly.”

“We want everyone to be able to enjoy the thrill of eSports,” said Sakkestad. “For everyone to enjoy it, it has to be easy, transparent, intuitive, a safe place, not some unregulated dark web [of] anarchy, and so we adults show up at the eSport arenas.

“This is why we are making Master Blaster the eSport portal by and for players and organizers. We aim to make it sophisticated enough that kids will use it in their spare time, but also user-friendly enough so dinosaurs like myself can organize tournaments.”

Photo courtesy of Simon Sakkestad

eSport from a municipality perspective

Kristina Renberg, branding and communications consultant, Office of Economic Development, City of Stavanger 

Stavanger has been the oil city, but city leaders are broadening their vision, looking at eSports as its economic and business future. In 2021 and 2022, the government designated NOK 2 million each year toward eSports, in part to support the development of a Norwegian eSports Association in Stavanger. 

“The association gathers different businesses within eSports and aims to develop the industry within economic, academic, business, and travel,” said Renberg. “This has led to initiatives like a program for eSports coaches.”

Why the need for the shift from oil to eSports, of all things? 

“The climate crisis has had a huge impact on our main industry,” said Renberg. “International talent is no longer knocking on our door. We need to offer good public services and support initiatives that lead to business development and economic growth.”

But the government is looking deeper than just seeing kids clicking away on a screen. 

“[Players] bring the needed essential skills in the transition to new technology,” Renberg said. “Maybe, the future drone pilots are former eSport players. We believe so. Industries drive capital. Think about the ripple effect a large event in eSport can create for the Stavanger region, not only in capital, but also in employment and putting Stavanger on the map as an attractive eSport region.”

eSports from a regional perspective

Erling Rostvåg, CEO of Good Game AS 

Good Game now runs the largest gaming website in Norway, gamer.no. “We are also an eSports platform where clubs and players can organize their own tournaments,” said Rostvåg. “We organize our own events using our platform.” 

For a variety of reasons, it’s hard to pin down how many eSports players are in Norway, but the closest is gamer.no’s database, but even that has “an asterisk.” As of Sept. 20, there are 92,532 registered players and just under 1,000 teams in tournaments, but sometimes the number of teams is a better indicator, as teams will have different number of players. Rostvåg says that over 80% of children younger than 18 share a similar hobby. 

Regardless of the actual number of players, a few things are clear. “The most important thing about these numbers is the development and speed of new players keep coming in,” said Rostvåg. 

“There is consistent growth in participation at the top level. We’re having trouble establishing the low-skill levels, giving them organized space where they feel at home. We’re constantly looking for ways to give opportunities for the increasing number of grassroots players. They need a place to play where seasoned players are not rolling over them every time they pick up the controllers.”

Rostvåg cites these factors as necessary to build eSports faster and constructively –  stability: adult presence; sense of community: physical and digital infrastructure; tournament formats; values; creating digital homes and training grounds for clubs. 

“I think it’s important to build a sense of community,” said Rostvåg. “It really helps with the recruitment. Everyone knows where they can go to play in a more stable environment. We have to live by our values. It’s one thing to talk about not being racist or being nice to women. We need to establish communities where that is communicated and anyone who steps out of bounds feels a reaction to that. I really do think there is a lot of potential in how eSports and gaming can benefit society.”

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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