Hannah Marie ZT, Author at Play New Meta Academy

Breaking Barriers: Empowering Neurodivergent Gamers

Video games are often considered to be a safe outlet for neurodivergent individuals to escape the pressures and stresses of everyday life, providing a form of escape to a safe environment over which they have greater control. As a result, 41% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (a common form of neurodivergence) spend most of their free time playing video games.

This increased representation of neurodivergent individuals in the gaming world is also seen in the video game industry, where 18% of game developers in the UK identify as neurodivergent compared to 15% of the overall UK population.  

Therefore, providing safe, positive, and supportive environments for neurodivergent gamers is vital to helping them explore the benefits of video games and the many places games can take them. At the New Meta Academy, we have been exploring how to make our space accessible for everyone, no matter what challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. 

two people sit at gaming stations playing a video game

What is neurodivergence, and why is it important?

Neurodivergence refers to the natural differences in brain development and how our brains function. Diagnosed neurodivergent conditions include Autism (also known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ASD), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Dyscalculia. When considering how to make our space as accessible as possible, at the New Meta Academy we are focusing particularly on supporting individuals with ASD and ADHD, as these tend to provide the most challenges for our Academy students. 

Understanding neurodivergence and how people experience the same environment in different ways is important. Some people may find bright lights, loud music, and potent smells disturbing, distracting, or off-putting, preventing them from enjoying and relaxing in a particular space. Identifying and acknowledging these barriers helps us to plan how to help those who may find our space at the New Meta Academy overwhelming.

How are we increasing accessibility for neurodivergent children at the New Meta Academy?

We spoke to Oscar from the New Meta Academy to discover how we are maintaining accessibility for neurodivergent children in the present and our plans to increase accessibility in the future. 

So what are safe spaces, and how do they help our kids?

Safe spaces are areas that our kids can retreat to whenever things are getting too much – if they are becoming overwhelmed or facing whatever triggers they might have. They are places where they can go to take care of themselves, with their parents if necessary too. Ultimately, it’s just a safe haven where they can go inside each of our lessons. 

What are our passports, and how do they help us get to know our kids and their needs before they show up for their first class?

Our passports are an intermediary between the children and the coaches. When they first arrive, during their inductions, we have a collaborative session between them, the coach, and their parents. This is so we can understand the child and their needs as best as possible. So, if they do end up feeling overwhelmed, we understand how best to deal with that. It is essentially a record to help us collaborate as best as possible with that child. In the event that we do need to bring their stress down a couple of levels, maybe because of a meltdown or a shutdown, they can go to the safe space, and we can take care of them in a way that they appreciate.  

How do we help kids feel more familiar with the space before they arrive?

The first and most important thing to help encourage familiarity with the space is ultimately for them and their parents to come to the New Meta Academy and have a tour themselves, right? We want you to experience our environment, whether it be the sounds or any smells, which we as staff may not notice but can be more of a trigger for others. 

We want you to be able to experience as many of these as possible so you can let us know why this may or may not be the right place for you, and we can understand how to mitigate any concerns before the first trial session. 

How are coaches prepared to best manage children’s individual needs? 

First and foremost, every coach has a DBS verification. We make sure they are well equipped to deal with young people. There are also certain procedures that help us in more or less any given situation. 

When it comes to neurodiversity training, this is something that we are very keen on doing. This is a way for us to open our eyes to things that neurotypical people may not be as sensitive to, such as certain smells or sounds that we don’t understand or realise are there until they are explained to us. It is a way for us to become more sensitive to problems or objects that may hinder our students from getting the best possible outcome for their learning. 

What can you do if you want to access our space, but you or your child face challenges due to neurodivergence?

The first step to ensuring we can help you and your child feel comfortable with us is to tell us how best to accommodate any particular needs you may have, particularly requirements you or your child may have due to neurodivergence. We want to work with neurodivergent individuals to ensure they can benefit from gaming and learning here just like anyone else. 

If you plan on bringing your child to a trial class at the New Meta Academy, we allow people to disclose any support and access needs when they sign up. You are also highly encouraged to contact our Academy via email or phone so that staff members can tailor their approach to you or your child’s visit as accurately as possible to what you need. 

We welcome guidance and feedback from anyone from any background who uses our space.

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    What is Esports? A Deep Dive into the World of Competitive Gaming

    Esports, short for electronic sports, has become a global sensation. Competitive video games have transformed from a passionate pastime to an over $1.38 billion industry. From packed stadiums to online streaming platforms, millions of fans worldwide tune in to watch professional gamers compete in various popular video game titles.

    Those who have only recently discovered the esports industry’s scope may be surprised that its history stretches far before the 2000s when competitive video games began to represent the system we see today. The first-ever video game tournament was held in the 1960s, and by 1978, the world had experienced its first international competition hosted by Atari.

    As the esports industry grew from the internet boom in the 1990s to the present digital age, it developed many of the core structures seen in traditional sports. Roles such as coach, physiotherapist, player agent, team manager, analyst, presenter, journalist, and PR agent all exist within the esports ecosystem at various professional levels.

    So, if you are new to the world of esports and want to learn more, where do you start?

    A professional esports player walks onto the stage at the Apex Legends Global Series Championship, with the Championship trophy to the right of the photo.
    Players walk onto the stage at an Apex Legends Championship. Photo by Joe Brady via Electronic Arts

    Esports building blocks – what is the esports ecosystem?

    There is a lot of diversity within esports. Many different competitive games have their ecosystems, running different styles of competitive seasons and regular tournaments. However, some fundamental building blocks to the esports ecosystem can help you understand how the industry works.

    Publishers

    All video games have a publisher. This is the company that publishes video games developed either internally or by a separate developer (which can be an individual, small group, or a larger company). Publishers often finance or help finance the video game development process and are responsible for distributing the game once it is published. Publishers are also often responsible for paying for any licences used by the game, advertisement, and managing the esports scene attached to competitive games.

    Publishers can also be split into three main groups:

    • AAA Game Publishers. These publishers are responsible for high-budget, tech-forward, and high-distribution video games. Competitive AAA games almost always have a corresponding esports scene.
    • Indie Game Publishers. Indie games usually focus on creativity and originality with a lower budget and more specific audience. Sometimes, indie games like Among Us or Lethal Company become viral sensations. However, indie games rarely have a corresponding esports scene.
    • Mobile Game Publishers. Mobile games are video games made specifically for smartphones or tablet devices. Games such as CandyCrush fall under this category. Some mobile games have esports scenes, such as PUBG Mobile, Mobile Legends Bang Bang, and Arena of Valor.

    Some video game publishers let external companies manage their esports scenes. For example, Counter-Strike esports is largely managed by companies like EFG, Blast, and PGL rather than the game’s publisher, Valve. However, others take a hands-on approach to their games’ esports scenes – for example, Riot Games tightly controls who runs official tournaments for their esports titles.

    Organisations and teams

    To have a competitive ecosystem, you need professional players. These gamers are talented enough to compete with the best of the best, often training every day to win even the toughest competitions.

    Most professional players are signed to an organisation. There are many esports organisations worldwide. Some focus on and invest in specific esports scenes, while other larger organisations sign teams or players across several games. Esports organisations are similar to a football or rugby team—they sign, train, and trade players, paying them a salary and providing them with the necessary equipment and support to reach their full potential.

    Examples of famous esports teams include G2, Team Vitality, TSM, T1, and Team Liquid. Some traditional sports teams and famous athletes also invest in esports. For example, footballer David Beckham, F1 driver Lando Norris, and basketball icon Michael Jordan have stakes in esports teams. On top of this, Manchester City FC, Wolves FC, and PSG FC all own esports players and teams.

    An esports player and their coach embrace after winning a game in the Apex Legends Global Series
    Players, coaches, and teams are at the heart of esports organisations. Photo by Joe Brady via Electronic Arts

    Events and tournaments

    The next fundamental building block to the world of esports is events. Esports events are the pinnacle of a game’s competitive season and are usually held in person at a LAN (Local access network event).

    Here, teams of professional esports players compete against each other in front of a live crowd. Large prize pools are often up for grabs, and the teams will progress through a tournament format. Some games, such as Fortnite, also have solo players competing against each other.

    There are several different types of tournaments and events within esports. The following are the most common:

    • Battle Royale Tournaments. Battle Royale games are where individuals or teams compete in a “lobby” (group of players or teams) to be the last standing. These games are usually shooters, where players must eliminate one another while traversing a game map. These esports tournaments often have upwards of sixty players competing on the stage.
    • MOBA Tournaments. “MOBA” stands for “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.” In MOBA tournaments, two teams of players compete against one another on a predefined battlefield, controlling one character each and working strategically together to achieve a common goal before the opposing team. Both teams interact with one another on the battlefield, often engaging in team fights to take control of the game.
    • Tactical Shooters. These highly strategic games involve tactical planning and usually require impressively accurate aim. Teams usually have five players, and only two teams compete against one another at a time. The primary goal is to eliminate the other team while working towards an opposing goal, with one side having an aim (for example, to plant a bomb) and the other trying to stop them from succeeding (preventing a bomb from being planted or diffusing it).

    Events and tournaments are usually the thrilling conclusions of a game’s regular season (where games are played online). The regular season resembles a regular football season, whereas the offline LAN tournaments resemble a football cup’s quarterfinal, semifinal, and final stages.

    A team of professional Counter-Strike players embrace on stage at IEM Katowice 2024. You can see the stadium seats behind them.
    A team huddle during a Counter-Strike (tactical shooter) tournament in Poland. Photo via ESL

    What careers can you find within the esports industry?

    Just like traditional sports, esports offers a wide range of career options. No matter where your strengths lie, the esports industry likely has a role that would suit you!

    Many esports career paths fit within three different areas of the industry: Professional teams/organisations, tournament and event organisation, and media.

    Professional Teams/Organisations

    Potential roles:

    • Professional esports athlete
    • Coaching staff (including esports analyst)
    • Physio and Psychotherapy
    • Player management
    • Finance, budgeting, and organisation management

    Professional esports teams and organisations range in size from grassroots (smaller, more locally influential) to Tier One (larger, competing on a regional and international level). Grassroots organisations are often a great place to build experience in team roles.

    Many colleges and universities also have esports teams. Young people can compete in student leagues and tournaments such as NSE (National Student Esports) and NUEL (National University Esports League) events. Although some UK universities now offer esports degrees, it is also possible to gain esports-related experience while also studying mainstream subjects.

    Tournament and Event Organisation

    Potential roles:

    • Event/project management and event direction
    • Technical director/producer
    • Videographer
    • Audio Engineer
    • Lighting design/operation
    • Observer (directing which players are shown on broadcast)
    • Digital broadcasting
    • Stage host/interviewer
    • Casting (esports commentary)
    • Tournament admin/referee

    Esports events complete the competitive calendar, where teams battle on stage to win a coveted title. Whether an event is a BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) tournament or a packed stadium, an extensive team collaborates to bring the magic alive. From audio and lighting to broadcasts and being on screen, an incredible variety of work is involved in setting the stage for players.

    An Apex Legends esports professional makes a heart gesture towards a packed crowd.
    An esports player makes a heart gesture to their fans in the crowd. Image by Joe Brady via Electronic Arts

    Media

    Potential roles:

    • Social media management
    • Content creation
    • Journalism
    • Public relations
    • Marketing

    Gaming and esports-based media has rapidly become an industry within its own right. YouTube, Twitch, and other social media platforms have led to the rise of gaming influencers like PewDiePie, Markiplier, and Ninja. The growth of esports events has also led to the founding of esports and gaming-specific news outlets such as Dot Esports, Esports.gg, and Dexerto. Alongside media influencers and outlets, Public Relations agencies will often specialise in the esports and gaming industries, assisting with events marketing, organising content creation across organisations, and arranging player interviews with media outlets.

    Why should you pay attention to the esports industry?

    The universal appeal of gaming makes both the current size and potential future of esports astronomically significant. Over hundreds of years, we witnessed the progression of sports pastimes, which inevitably led to competition to find the best, most skilled, and most accomplished athletes. Now, we are seeing a condensed, fast, and exciting progression in gaming, accelerated by how easy it is to connect talented gamers from around the world digitally.

    In an increasingly online world, esports is also at the forefront of digital culture. How many pop culture phenomena have stemmed from video games? The answer is too many to count. Even some of our most popular TV series in recent years, such as The Last of Us, found their origins in video games.

    Who knows where the world of gaming and esports will take you? It is a fresh, new industry with so much to explore. Why not start your journey with us at the New Meta Academy.

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      From Screen Time to Skill Time: An Introduction to Esports and Child Development

      Can esports positively impact your child’s development? Despite the widespread negativity directed towards gaming in the mainstream media, studies prove that esports can absolutely be beneficial to developing positive behaviours in children. In fact, a 2013 BBC article extensively reported on the benefits of video games, relaying the results of several scientific studies that demonstrated positive cause-and-effect relationships between video games and key cognitive functions, abilities, and skills.  

      Video games require a vast range of cognitive skills. Team-orientated games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2, and Apex Legends also require a high degree of communication. Through competitive video games, your kids can actively work on developing these skills with their friends in a comfortable, engaging, and competitive environment. 

      What skills can your child build through esports coaching?

      Cognitive Skills

      Video games regularly pose cognitive challenges. For example, a game like League of Legends or Dota 2 requires you to strategise throughout the game, choosing certain items or abilities to collect depending on your strategic approach. On the other hand, a first-person shooter game (FPS) such as Fortnite often requires quick and confident decision-making under pressure. 

      Additionally, all games require a degree of problem-solving. For example, gamers must decide where to land on a map to gain the best advantage, which strategy can effectively counter another, or how to navigate an obstacle in the way of success. Children can benefit greatly from being presented with these challenges and encouraged to navigate them both independently and cooperatively. 

      The application of these skills extends far beyond the world of video games. For example, meeting and overcoming challenges is a great way to build confidence. Learning to approach new challenges in a familiar environment such as a favourite video game can help build the confidence necessary to overcome challenges in new, unfamiliar scenarios. 

      Esports Academy - Media 14

      Social Skills and Navigating Online Relationships

      It is time to dispel the myth of gaming being an isolating activity – video games have an incredible ability to connect people in striving for a common goal. Any team-orientated video game, from League of Legends to Fortnite, requires consistent communication and collaboration. Encouraging children to develop their teamwork within an engaging game makes the process of learning to work collaboratively far more exciting. 

      Many parents have concerns about their children’s social skills after losing crucial opportunities to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many kids found comfort in video games during this time. Bringing them into physical spaces to continue enjoying activities that are familiar is a great way to maintain their confidence while encouraging them to socialise in a new environment. 

      Practising online communication in a supervised environment is also increasingly important for children in the digital age. According to the World Economic Forum, the amount of jobs that can be worked remotely is expected to rise by 25% by 2030. Navigating online conversation and collaboration will be more vital than ever before. Gaming online can help increase familiarity with these forms of communication, and children can learn appropriate online behaviour with guidance from our coaches at the New Meta Academy.    

      Esports Academy - Media 11

      Brain Development

      Video games can even play a part in crucial aspects of brain development. Competitive games’ fast-paced nature helps children improve their reaction times, attention span, memory, hand-to-eye coordination, and spatial reasoning. To win a game, they must multitask, paying attention to their teammates while ensuring they stay on the ball and alert for the next action. 

      Through this combination of actions, children can also develop improved cognitive flexibility. This refers to their ability to quickly and effectively switch between tasks and adjust their behaviour to different situations. 
      Cognitive flexibility is a particularly crucial development stage for children between 7 and 9 years old, and it continues to improve through their teenage years. At the New Meta Academy, we cater to children from the age of 6 to 16 and support them in this journey.

      How can we support you and your child to achieve your goals?

      Creating a safe and supportive environment for gamers is at the heart of New Meta. Our gaming studio was founded to create a space for passionate players of all ages to develop their skills amongst friends. Now, the New Meta Academy brings kids from 6 to 16 the added encouragement, positive environment, and professional guidance to take their skills above and beyond. 

      Cognitive skills, social skills, and brain development are all incredibly important to your children as they learn to navigate an increasingly digital world. We not only give your child space to explore their gaming passion, but we also find ways to help them use video games as an outlet to improve their lives. 

      We are always excited to welcome new students into the academy! To learn more about the Play New Meta Academy and sign up for a trial class, click the link below!

      Sign up now for a free trial class

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