Kalam Neale, head of education at the British Esports Federation, on developing a curriculum and changing people’s misconceptions.
How did you break into games?
Whilst working as a curriculum leader in sport in 2018 and exploring curriculum developments, it was evident that US colleges and universities had started to offer esports scholarships. Having sent students to the USA for the last decade on sports scholarships, this seemed a natural progression. This coupled with esports degree programmes launching in the UK and the significant growth of the industry, it was apparent that there was a huge gap in education for young people who were passionate about games and esports.
As a result, in 2019, we launched the UK’s first fully funded, full-time esports study programme at Barnsley College; a blend of Business, Sport and Esports. This led to me working with British Esports and Pearson as a writer of the BTEC Esports Qualifications; equivalent to three A-Levels at the highest level, and to becoming a trainer and podcast host with Pearson. I joined British Esports on a full-time basis as Head of Education in 2022.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Being part of writing and developing such a trailblazing and ground-breaking curriculum makes me extremely proud. To date, we’ve had over 5,500 young people study this qualification across the UK. To provide this pathway and entry into the industry for so many people is amazing. We anticipate that over 7,000 students will take part in the British Esports Student Champs this year also, which will be a huge part of their academic, personal, and social development. This year, I was extremely honoured to win a Pearson National Teaching Award for Digital Innovation, I hope this national recognition for esports in education will inspire other educators to join us on this exciting journey.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
The biggest challenge is demystifying the misconceptions that many people in education have with video games and esports, that they think it’s only a hobby. We continue to work hard to raise awareness with educators, parents and at government level of esports education and the associated careers in games, STEM, business, events, and sport.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love being part of that ‘lightbulb moment’ when people see esports for the first time, the moment they get it and it all makes sense, when they see people immersed and transformed, when they see the skill involved, both in the game and through interpersonal skills such as communication, leadership, strategic thinking, and organisation. It changes those misconceptions instantly, more importantly though, that provides the acceptance, validation, and opportunity for people to pursue their passion. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing people succeed and progress into careers or higher level study as a result.
What’s your biggest ambition in games?
My biggest ambition is to make esports education accessible for all through formal qualifications and enrichment opportunities. Whilst we have made huge progress over the last three years in the UK, we can still collectively do more to grow and develop opportunities for people to access high quality, fun and engaging education to inspire their transition into future careers.
What advice would you give to an aspiring head of education?
The same advice that I would give to anyone who is studying something or who is working towards a particular role; do what you love. If you love what you do and you pursue your passion, you will enjoy the work, you will enjoy the journey. It’s not always a straightforward route and not everyone should know what they want to do for the rest of their life, but if you choose to study and gain experiences in an area you love then you will be well on your way to working in a career that you enjoy and are passionate about.