Esports – a platform for developing 21st century skills

Esport is becoming a more popular sport worldwide every day. On top of that, esport is also growing as an industry. More and more people are becoming esport athletes, playing their favorite competitive games as a sport. With esport having such a big potential as an industry, the question remains, whether playing these games could also provide the potential for development for the people playing the games? The 21st-century skills, also called the four C’s (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking), have received more attention lately and can be used to answer this question. The 21st-century skills are the abilities that students need to develop in order to succeed in our information-based society. Also, the number of children and adolescents playing video games is increasing, making it relevant and essential to examine. Playing these video games often involves exploring worlds, talking to other players or NPC’s, managing roles and characters, working together with other people, etc. You could therefore argue that these involvements relate to the four C’s. The question then becomes, whether video games hold the potential to develop these 21st-century skills or competencies? Do video games enhance competency development? Does playing League of Legends enhance your communication and collaboration skills? Does Minecraft increase the potential for developing creativity and critical thinking? This article examines these questions. By searching literature regarding 21st-century skills and esport/videogames, this article aims to give a broad insight into the knowledge we have so far, from a research perspective.


The following section describes the methods used in this review. Firstly, the table (table 1) below illustrates the inclusion- and exclusion criteria used in the search progress.

Table 1
Inclusion criteria Exclusion criteria
The four C’s from 21st century skills Language not written in danish or english
Gaming or Esport Addictive gaming
Competency development Design focusing on disorders
Texts/reviews that are fully accessible Serious games
Games created by the author (not a real game)

In this review, we were looking for competency development in esport or gaming. Therefore, the four C’s from the 21st-century skills was an inclusion criterion. Also, that’s why gaming or esport was on the list. Texts or reviews that are fully accessible also made the inclusion criteria list. If the texts were not fully accessible, we would not be able to read the studies and results.

Regarding the exclusion criteria, it was very important that studies focusing on addictive behavior or disorders were not included. In this review, the goal was to examine competency development, when playing video games like Minecraft, League of Legends, CS:GO, etc. The study was not looking for a particular group of people, hence the exclusion of studies focusing on people being addicted to gaming or people with disorders. Also, serious games met the exclusion criteria, mainly because serious games are made to be educational in their designs and thereby could skew the results. This study focuses on entertainment games and how we develop competencies by playing these games. If the study included games created by the author or serious games, it wouldn’t be generalizable compared to the area that we wish to examine.

Search synthesis

                      For the final search synthesis, the databases PsychInfo, PubMed, Scopus, and Google Scholar, were used. These databases were used, mainly because they would cover a broad range of articles with both psychological and gaming/esport themes, which is relevant for this review. Below is a table (table 2) illustrating the search matrix. This search was done with all 4 databases. All 4 databases have a Boolean search function, where all words from the search matrix can be combined with “AND”, “OR”, or “NOT”. The final search was conducted on August 23. – 2021.

Arena/Place Group Exercise/Method/Term Design
(Esport or Esports or gaming or Gamers or e-sport or e-sports or videogaming or video-gaming) AND (competence or competencies or competency or “Level up” or collaboration or “critical thinking” or creativity) AND Longitudinal study OR

Prospective study OR

Follow-up study OR

Timeseries study OR

Register study OR

Cohort study OR Systematic review OR Experiment OR Intervention OR Assessment

Table 2

Selection process

After the search was conducted, the website, was used for selecting articles.

Covidence is a website that stores and organizes selected articles. At the same time, the program helps to organize the screening process. Cochrane recommends that two researchers independently screen the articles, which this review followed (Higgins, 2019). Titles and abstracts were screened independently. The studies were rated YES / NO / MAYBE. Disagreements over the inclusion of articles were discussed subsequently. The included articles were then read in full text and assessed according to the set inclusion and exclusion criteria for whether they should be included in the analysis. See Figure 1 for PRISMA Flow Diagram.


The following section gives a brief overview of the results found in this review. The results are based on results of the included reviews (n=6). For a more deeply description of every single article, see figure 2.

Ellison 2020 examined weather boys writing could be developed by playing Minecraft. They found that boys had improved their creativity and communication in writing after playing Minecraft. Both their vocabulary choices and creative design of a castle had improved after playing.

Matijevicl & Topolovcan 2019 interviewed 30 teenagers classifying themselves as everyday gamers. They found, through analyzing these interviews, that the participants felt that creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication, all were factors that they developed through gaming.

Hewet Zeng & Pletcher 2020 found that the computer game Minecraft can help students learn to problem-solve and develop social skills through collaboration.

Meihua Qian, Karen R. Clark 2016 conducted a systematic review examining weather game-based learning could be a suitable platform for developing 21st century skills. They found that there was reason to be optimistic and that competitive or creative games like League of Legend, Minecraft, CS:GO etc. could provide development in competency.

Sourmelis, Ioannou & Zaphiris 2017 examined weather Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), like World of Warcraft, could increase players competencies. They found that MMORPG’s could be an arena for fostering 21st century skills, though research has mostly been focusing on communication and less regarding critical thinking, collaboration and creativity.

Zheng et al. 2020 conducted a review focusing on development of social orientation, cooperation and trust when playing cooperative videogames. They found that multiplayer game context can promote cooperative behavior in the real world. They also found that prosocial individuals show more cooperative behavior than proself individuals in the double-player game mode.




Figure 2
Article Partcipants/papers Methodology Results/Effects Conclusion
Using Digital Sandbox Gaming to Improve Creativity Within Boys’ Writing – Ellison 2020 12 participants, where 6 participants got statements of consent by parents for data to be used in review. The participants where boys in 3. Class. Qualitative methods.

–          Focusgroup interview with 8 participants

–          Written sample analysis (mackenzie et al 2013 writing analyzing tool)– 6 participants

Mackenzie’s writing analysis tool:

4,7, 3, 2,3, 4, 2,3, 2,7

5,7, 4, 4,3, 4, 2,3, 2,7

The writing analysis showed that all the boys had either remained steady or improved their creative ideas and vocabulary choices.

Thus, the students were found to have either benefited from using Minecraft to develop creativity and depth of insight into their castle designs or stayed steady.

Informal learning among teenagers through video games – a qualitative Analysis of experiences, game modes and didactic benefits – MATIJEVIĆ1 & TOPOLOVČAN 2019 30 participants.

The participants were video game players in an age between 14 and 19.

Qualitative methods.

–          Interview

–          Case studies

–          Introspection

A total of 25 video games were analyzed and discussed with players (N=30) with vast experience of playing (some of them over several years and thousands of gameplay hours).

Through an analysis of the main concepts used by players to express the values and benefits of playing video games, the most prominent terms were found to be entrepreneurship, creativity, time and money management, critical thinking, teamwork and cooperation. The importance of persistence, motor skills, mental concentration and money are noted an additional eight or nine times.

It is evident that teenagers and students play a variety of video games that can develop skills needed for informal learning or for later in life. These skills are often not taught in the classroom, and rarely form as part of the school’s learning program. The results show that students recognize the value of communication skills, decision making, multiculturalism, critical thinking and entrepreneurship in video games and that these competences are crucial in everyday life. It is important to note that video games are not just ways of playing and wasting time, but are also latent factors in the development of life skills.
The Acquisition of 21st- Century Skills Through Video Games: Minecraft Design Process Models and Their Web of Class Roles – Hewet Zeng & Pletcher 2020 13 Participants.

The participants were teenagers from a high school in South Texas. The teenagers were over 18 and identified themselves as high school gamer.

Qualitative methods:

The triangulated data collection included six qualitative case study interviews, observation data (with demographics) from thirteen participants, and visual artifacts from six classes grounded in social constructivist, social constructionist, and interpretivist theories.

The data collection led to the development of four themes: 1.) Leadership: Models for Design 2.) Navigating the 3D World, 3.) Think Outside-the-Box, and 4.) Real-world Connections. These themes were elicited by common categories among the six qualitative case study interviews, thirteen observations, and the visual artifacts from the six classes. They represent Minecraft themes that align with P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s framework for the Four Cs Based on the data examples presented in this article, it can be concluded that Minecraft can help students learn to problem-solve, improve their research skills, be resourceful, multitask, and develop their social skills through teamwork. The visual artifacts and interview passages shared moments of situational learning through a social constructivist and social constructionist lens.
Game-based Learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research 137 studies were included in this review. To be included in this review, papers had to (a) include evidence related to digital technology enhanced learning environments, (b) include quantitative statistics with effect size being or not being reported, and (c) date from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2014. Quantitative method:

–          Search tearms and Prisma guidelines for systematic review.

–          Statistics

–          Cohens d and effect sizes.

–          Categorization of findings

Of the 137 articles, only 29 targeted 21st century skills as outcomes.

Effect sizes:

Twenty-nine papers investigating the effects of Game-based learning (GBL) on 21st century skills reported a total of 97 outcomes, with 85% of the results being significant (i.e., p < 0.05), and roughly one-third (34%) being associated with medium to large effect sizes

In summary, the present study indicates there is reason to be optimistic about the potential of using a game-based learning approach to promote 21st century skill development in the future, although only one third of the empirical findings were associated with medium to large effect sizes and a few studies targeted creativity, communication and collaboration as learning outcomes.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) and the 21st century skills: A comprehensive research review from 2010 to 2016 – Sourmelis, Ioannou & Zaphiris 2017 49 papers Included in this review.  Only papers with empirical data examining one or more types of 21st century skills were of interest for this review, with 49 papers fulfilling these criteria. Quantitative method:

–          Search tearms and Prisma guidelines for systematic review.

–          Statistics

–          Cohens d and effect sizes.

Categorization of findings

Overall, this review revealed a strong body of evidence suggesting that MMORPGs are spaces in which a variety of 21st Century Skills can be fostered. It is clear that research in the past six years (2010e2016) focused on Communication. Though fewer papers were found to study other skills, authors in general report positive learning outcomes in relation to the 21st Century Skills, either these were studied directly or derived from the results of the research. This review sought to determine the level of maturity of the body of research and to identify lacks of knowledge with respect to 10 types of 21st Century Skills. Overall, this review revealed a strong body of evidence suggesting that MMORPGs are spaces in which a variety of 21st Century Skills can be fostered. It can be concluded that although important progress has been made, there is still work to be done, especially with the understudied 21st Century skills – creativity and innovation as well as problem solving and information literacy.
The Impact of Social Value Orientation, Game Context and Trust on Cooperative Behavior After Cooperative Video Game Play – Zheng et al. 2020 The participants were 89 undergraduate and graduate students who provided written informed consent before the experiment and received a reward after the experiment. The sample included 33 men and 56 women aged 17 to 26 years old, with a mean age of 19.922.23years. Quantitative method:

–          Survey

–          SPSS Statistics

–          MANOVA

–          Experimental design

–          Means

–          T-sample test

The MANOVA results show that the main effect of SVO on cooperative behavior was significant, F(1,83)1⁄44.20, p<0.05, gp2 1⁄4 0.05. Prosocial individuals (M 1⁄4 5.93, SD 1⁄4 2.51) had higher cooperative behavior than proself individuals (M 1⁄4 4.94, SD 1⁄4 1.92).

The main effect of the game mode on cooperative behavior was significant, F(1,83) 1⁄4 25.21, p < 0.001, gp2 1⁄4 0.23.

This study shows that the multiplayer game context can promote cooperative behavior in the real world

This study also indicates that prosocial and proself individuals have no differences in cooperative behavior in the single-player game mode but that prosocial individuals show more cooperative behavior than proself individuals in the double-player game mode.

Improving your ability to resolve conflicts in esport training

In order to increase your skills in resolving conflicts in a training, there are several approaches to take into account. All these approaches help choosing the best method for resolving conflicts described earlier.

Some of those approaches are:

  • Active listening – Involves making note of a phrasing, then responding with the same wording. This not only demonstrates that you are listening, but also helps clear up any confusion regarding your argument.
  • Patience – People will often hold their stands (simply because we want to be right) until they are right or are proven wrong. It’s important to keep in mind, that the conflict may not be solved right away. No matter the conflict and how long it may take, it is important to listen to every participant and respect each argument.
  • Calmness and positivity – Being positive can help keeping the progress moving forward. Also, no conflict will be solved by anger, tears and bad language. Keep a good tone, stay positive and respect other participants arguments. Do not point fingers or become impulsive. Keeping calm will affect the others and eventually leading the progress forward.
  • All three approaches help you navigate between the methods for resolving conflicts. Active listening helps you understand the problem. Patience involves knowing that conflicts aren’t always solved in a matter of minutes and sometimes you need to switch between methods depending on the conflict. Calmness and positivity help you keeping the progress forward. That leads to better communication, which leads to understanding the problem. And that eventually helps you choosing a method to resolve the conflict. However, we need to keep in mind that all three approaches, in some way, are connected.


By looking at the results found in this study, we can conclude that there is a possibility, that esport and/or gaming can improve competency development. It appears that explorative games, like Minecraft, can help develop competencies like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, shown in the studies by both Ellison 2020 and Hewet Zeng & Pletcher 2020. The results also point towards cooperative games seeming to help improve 21st-century skills. This assumption is supported by the studies Meihua Qian, Karen R. Clark 2016 and Zheng et al. 2020. And finally, the study by Sourmelis, Ioannou & Zaphiris 2017 supports the statement that MMORPG’s help develop competencies. By looking at these results, it can be assumed that playing video games improves competency development. Video games provide a platform, which is accessible for everybody, that can be used for enhancing competencies like 21st-century skills. Skills that keep getting in more and more focus, but lacks learning time in the classrooms. Learning times that could be found via video games.

Even though this study assumes that video games provide a great opportunity for competency development, a few things still need to be considered. First, this review only searched 4 databases regarding the research topic. More articles could perhaps be found if more databases were used. Also, some articles included in this review, like Ellison 2020 and Hewet Zeng & Pletcher 2020, only examine the game Minecraft. How about other explorative games? Meihua Qian, Karen R. Clark 2016 also found evidence for competency development in competitive and creative games. But only one-third of the empirical findings were associated with medium to large effect sizes and a few studies targeted creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Finally, it also needs to be noted that further research needs to be done to provide further evidence regarding esport/gaming and competency development. Gaming and esport are massive topics that keep growing every day. But still, so little research has been done regarding the positive effects of video games and how they can be a platform providing opportunities to enhance competencies. Though the findings in this review still point towards the notion that video games can help develop competencies, it also calls for the importance of further research on the topic.


This article examined what we know so far about playing videgames/esport and developing 21st century skills and/or competencies. By looking at the results it can appear that videogames do indeed provide potential for developing competencies like creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. For example, Minecraft seem to improve creativity and critical thinking skills. Also, League of Legends seem to improve communication and collaboration skills. Although esport as a platform for developing competencies, is still a very new research topic with not many studies examining it. Therefor further research in this area is needed needs before any conclusions can be made.


Ellison, M., & Drew, C. (2020). Using digital sandbox gaming to improve creativity within boys’ writing. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 34(2), 277-287.

Hewett, K. J. E., Zeng, G., & Pletcher, B. C. (2020). The acquisition of 21st-century skills through video games: Minecraft design process models and their web of class roles. Simulation & Gaming, 51(3), 336-364.

Higgins, J. P. T., & Cochrane Collaboration issuing body. (2019). Cochrane handbook for system- atic reviews of interventions (Second;2; ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell

Matijević, M., Topolovčan, T., University of Zagreb, Faculty of Teacher Education, Croatia, & University of Zagreb, Faculty of Teacher Education, Croaita. (2019). Informal learning among teenagers through video games: A qualitative analysis of experiences, game modes and didactic benefits. Revija Za Elementarno Izobraževanje, 12(1), 1-26.

Sourmelis, T., Ioannou, A., & Zaphiris, P. (2017). Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) and the 21st century skills: A comprehensive research review from 2010 to 2016. Computers in Human Behavior, 67, 41-48.

Qian, M., & Clark, K. R. (2016). Game-based learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 50-58.

Zheng, W., Cao, S., Wang, Y., Yang, K., Chen, Y., & Song, G. (2021;2020;). The impact of social value orientation, game context and trust on cooperative behavior after cooperative video game play. Psychological Reports, 124(3), 1353-1369.