The Telluride High School (THS) eSports club was formed three years ago, when an enthusiastic group of video-gamers started playing together. Just this school year, the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) is piloting eSports as a sanctioned, competitive activity.
THS counselor Alex Brown is the eSports coach this year, in order to get the team up and running during its inaugural season.
“In the future, we’d like to look at potential coaches who can specifically support game-play skills,” Brown explained. “We are having team captain Cameron Creel help fill the role of instructing new players and supporting experienced journeymen.”
In its first season, the Telluride eSports team consists of 15 players from grades 9-12 who will compete in two different games.
“League of Legends requires five players to make a team, and Rocket League requires three,” Brown said. “Both teams have substitutes that play in practices and matches. We expect more people to create teams as the sport becomes more popular and players have the time to learn the ins and outs of specific games.”
Brown said that there were four female students who regularly attended Gamers Club last year, but they all graduated. This year, there are two or three female students in the club, and he hopes more will join.
“None are currently playing on the eSports team, but with time and exposure, we hope that will change,” he said.
eSports is considered an extra-curricular activity, and while the district hasn’t yet considered whether it might count as a sports credit, as THS counselor, Brown said it doesn’t meet the requirements of physical education state standards.
“Instead, it could be considered a technology or elective credit, should the board approve a request,” he said.
Superintendent Mike Gass appreciates the program because students have been gaming in isolation, but now they can participate on an eSports team.
“It’s reaching a group of kids that typically aren’t our athletes or band kids, and it gives kids a different opportunity to be part of a team and collaborate to work on a common goal,” Gass said.
Creel, along with fellow THS student Gary Bush, presented the program at a THS accountability meeting earlier this week, fielding questions from Gass, school board members and curious parents.
Brown said reaction from accountability members was surprisingly open-minded and accepting.
“We thought there would be opposition,” he said. “How it would be bad for kids or why should they consider video games a sport. But they embraced the idea as a new and inclusive sport.”
Brown believes a competitive eSports team is a great fit for the district.
“There is a large population of students who enjoy gaming,” Brown said. “It caters to a group that isn’t served in the school by programming and eSports in general lead to college and career opportunities. At the least, it’s a fun, social environment for competition.”
School board director Dylan Brooks said that the district is aware of how technology and screen time is accessed across age groups.
“We are cautious about this effort,” Brooks said. “Still, we have a number of students who have clamored for something like this and are coming out of their shells to engage the school and other teammates.”
Brooks added that some students who showed little-to-no interest in attending college are now showing interest since many colleges offer eSports scholarships. According to CHSAA, there are more than 200 colleges and universities that offer almost $15 million in eSports scholarships.
Gass is also willing to try eSports as a pilot program this year because it’s a student-driven interest. At the same time he is also aware of the effects of screen time.
“We’d rather have kids doing active things,” he said. “But what the kids said at the accountability meeting is, ‘We’d probably be doing this on our own anyway.’”
Gass pointed out that there are advantages to students having to be eligible to compete in eSports matches.
“We’ve seen kids who haven’t been engaged in the school really taking school seriously and putting themselves in a position to be a team member and leader,” Gass said. “We recognize that today’s kids have different wants and needs. If they’re going to do it, and we can capitalize on improving some academic performance through it and give them a chance to represent our high school, we’re excited about that.”
Weekly seasonal games began this week, with each eSport team competing online, on campus, against other schools across the state. The season runs through mid-December with playoffs in January. Season Two begins in February.
“As of right now, all teams around the state are playing in one league for each game,” Brown said. “In the future, we’re considering streaming games online so that others may watch.”