Sharon Springs Central School is looking to lead the way with e-sports—competitive, organized video gaming and a fast-growing, international phenomenon with millions of fans and billions of dollars up for grabs in prizes, endorsements, and college scholarships.
About a dozen kids have signed up to take some of the games popular with at-home gamers—League of Nations is one—to the next level, teacher and coach David Nedelsky said.
And though SSCS would be the first local school to offer e-sports, it won’t be the last, predicted Athletic Director Chris Smith, who said he brought the idea up at a meeting he was at.
“No one has it, but they said, ‘Chris, it’s coming,’” he said.
Still to be sorted out is where e-sports fits in with more traditional physical sports, but the benefits are already there, Issac Smith told school board members in a presentation last Monday: not only are there college e-teams, but there are college e-team scholarships.
“It’s been growing in popularity over the past five years or so,” said Superintendent Pat Green. “There are tournaments, awards shows…” and money to be made: The 2017 League of Legends Tournament generated $5.5 million in ticket sales.
What makes e-sports different from playing at home on the couch is the level games are played at, said student Josh Adams.
“It’s the difference between kids casually playing pick-up basketball and a varsity team.”
Games are played online—for now just against other New York State teams with BOCES and NERIC setting up the league—and there are practices—probably four times a week at SSCS to start—along with team meetings.
“Just like any sport, it’s their skill that earns them a place on the team,” Mr. Nedelsky said.
And just like any sport, student Nic VanArsdal, said, e-sports help teach things like collaboration and critical thinking; “It motivates them to keep their grades up to stay on the team,” added Josh.
Though some schools pay year-round, e-sports would be a spring sport at SSCS, running February-May.
That way, it won’t hurt participation in more traditional sports, always a concern at small schools.
As AD, Mr. Smith said he’s neither for or against e-sports and he likes the idea of giving all students a chance to be involved in something they enjoy.
He is, however, a little worried adding another sport would take bodies away from existing sports.
“I look at the list [of kids who are interested] and I see some of my athletes…” he said.
Mr. Green also pointed to the need to balance screen time and physical activity.