By Anabella Prodan
Sheffield United Community College proudly unveiled its exclusive esports pathway just over a year ago, inviting young enthusiasts between the ages of 16 and 18 to be the first-ever representatives of the Blades in the Esports British Championship. The adrenaline-pumping qualification, a BTEC Level 3 (Extended) Diploma equivalent to three A-Levels, sets the stage for an amazing two-year journey into the dynamic world of competitive gaming.
The esports pathway at Bramall Lane promises an extraordinary adventure, offering students the chance to flex their gaming skills in the British Esports Championships every Wednesday during term time. Picture this: you and your course mates honing your gaming abilities, gearing up to face off against colleges and teams from all corners of the country. It’s not just a course; it’s a passport to a unique blend of education.
Nestled in the heart of Sheffield, the newly refurbished Esports Suite at Bramall Lane serves as the centre of this innovative course. A flexible three-day timetable ensures a balance between traditional lessons and intense game training, paving the way for a well-rounded educational experience. “Some of our students may not have access to gaming consoles or PCs at home, so they come to our college, where we’ve got an amazing facility with 24 high-spec game PCs,” said Russell Bagot, Esports Coach Assistant. “For a lot of the students who come here, that is their outlet, their access to gaming. It’s become a great opportunity for kids from potentially poorer backgrounds to be able to come in and use our amazing facilities at Bramall Lane.”
The esports pathway, one of three offered, is aimed at those with a passion for competitive gaming. But the beauty lies in choice, as Russell said: “Traditionally, Sheffield United has come from a position of training in football or sports coaching, but since esports is new and has been added to our portfolio of courses, not only we’re now offering this third area that students can join us on, but also any student who’s on the sport side of things can get involved in the esports pathway.”
This course transcends the boundaries of esports, meaning that the college is not just creating gamers; it’s also nurturing future data engineers, software developers, and event managers. Its academic units cover everything from game design and video production to ethical issues in esports, opening doors to many career options. Russell said: “The course can bring into any career that has digital skills. We find that a lot of people are interested in media, marketing, or advertising, and we also have people who want to go into the game development industry or even the sports industry.”
The College has spared no expense to create an immersive learning environment. State-of-the-art resources, including individual gaming PCs or laptops for each student, virtual learning platforms, and access to dozens of games, ensure that every learner has the tools they need. The passionate staff, dedicated work placement coordinators, and a partnership with York College amplify the experience, exposing students to the broader world of gaming and technology.
Moreover, their comprehensive support system ensures that students receive holistic care, some of which includes learning mentors and access to York College’s support team. The emphasis is on personal and academic development, fostering independence, innovation, and responsibility. Russell places emphasis on this. “The students that we see come through our foundation might not have fit into a secondary school or they might not have been interested in other sixth form colleges, so we offer an opportunity that they might not have had in the past couple of years. Now they’re joining us, they’re feeling at home, now part of a community that helps them fit in, again.”
Motivation is the driving force, and with a robust system of rewards, including the coveted Esports Student of the Month title, students are encouraged to excel in attendance, punctuality, engagement, and meeting deadlines. The top-performing student each month not only receives recognition but also a £20 Gaming Voucher. Russell added to this: “The great thing about being linked to the football club is that they get their Sheffield United badge on their uniforms alongside our own esports jerseys and kits. Students can also go down to the pitch, take pictures there. So they feel very much part of the Sheffield United Football Club family.”
Russell concluded: “Gaming may be seen as quite an isolated activity, where you just sit behind your PC or console screen, and you don’t interact but stay cooped up in your bedroom. Yet we find that when students come here, and when young people engage in our activities, it’s almost forcing them to open up, because they’re engaging in collaborative efforts, they’re working together, forming bonds. Coming here means we can provide this opportunity for them to open up to other people in the Foundation and at the college, so that gaming can no longer be an isolated activity. Everyone is welcome at the college because we can make people feel welcome through gaming.”
So if you’re aged 16-18 with at least four GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including English Language and Maths, this course is your ticket to a thrilling journey. For those without English or Maths qualifications, a one-year Level 2 sport qualification is on offer. The door is open, and the Blades are ready to welcome the next generation of esports champions.
Join the online community – follow Sheffield United Community College on social media @CommunitySUFC for the latest updates and a sneak peek into the esports revolution! It’s not just a course; it’s a digital journey waiting for you.