Esports Growing Exponentially at the High School Level
21 Feb, 2020By: Michael Popke
National Public Radio reports that more than 170 colleges and universities now offer esports programs, which collectively provide more than $16 million in college scholarships. That’s big money for players — and that’s one big reason why high schools are entering the arena.
Schools in at least 17 states and the District of Columbia will offer esports programs in 2020, according to NPR. Some fall under the “athletics” umbrella while others are categorized as “activities.”
“I’d like to see … a little bit more leadership by state and local actors and hopefully with some federal coordination to really outline what principles and what sort of values they want to instill [through esports],” Jason Chung, an assistant professor of Esports Management and the executive director of Esports at the University of New Haven’s College of Business, told NPR. “What are some of the physical fitness requirements you want to actually put in there? Because ultimately, whether it’s a sport or a tech product or whatever it is, if we’re going to have high school age kids play it, you want to have some sort of healthy mindset in there.”
To that end, Hallie Zwibel, director of sports medicine at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, recently offered some suggestions to Athletic Business magazine. He recommended that athletic trainers, coaches, physicians and others working with gamers stress the importance of proper posture while playing, suggest limiting the amount of exposure to bright lights and limiting the amount of screen time before bedtime, and issuing warnings about the dangers of an overly sedentary lifestyle.
And less than two years ago, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the NFHS Network partnered with online gaming provider PlayVSto launch an infrastructure — complete with leagues and scheduling — for high school esports competition. Current games includes League of Legends, Rocket Leagueand SMITE.
“PlayVS’ philosophy on high school-based sports and focus on participation perfectly aligns with the NFHS and its member state associations,” Mark Koski, CEO of the NFHS Network said at the time of the launch. ”As schools look to provide participation opportunities for high school students, esports is a great option on two fronts. First, esports may involve students who haven’t been involved in a sport or activity in the past. Second, the costs to implement esports are minimal compared to starting a traditional sport, which can be extensive with equipment and facilities.”
In one of the biggest developments related to high school esports, PlayVS in January announced is partnership with Epic Games to make Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular video games — a high school and college sport at the club level. (The move also marked PlayVS’ first foray into the collegiate market.)
Registration for the inaugural seasons of Fortnite — a third-person shooter game that features no gore and looks like an animated action series — closes Feb. 17 for high schools and Feb. 24 for colleges and universities. The season officially kicks off March 2. TechCrunch.comhas more details.
Not all high schools are embracing esports, though — especially when it comes to allowing Fortnite into the mix.
According to The Washington Post, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association banned Fortnite (with its “T-for-Teen” rating) from its members schools’ varsity esports programs, citing concerns about the depiction of gun violence.
KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett sent an email to Kentucky school officials stating that “there is no place for shooter games in our schools,” and referencing a 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in that state that killed two and injured more than a dozen others.
“Neither the KHSAA, NFHS nor the NFHS Network had any knowledge of this addition and is strongly against it,” Tackett wrote in the email, which was provided to The Washington Post. “This announcement was particularly troubling in that it came on the anniversary of one of Kentucky’s darkest days, the Marshall County incident.”
As The Post reported: “[t]he impact and validity of the ban, or the role the NFHS would play in high school-level Fortnite competitions is unclear. In an email to The Post [in late January] clarifying the operation of the Fortnite competitions, a representative for PlayVS wrote that ‘PlayVS is operating a national club league for Fortnite with Epic’ and that ‘schools opting into Fortnite will compete in a national club league, separate from their respective state associations.’ High school Fortnite competitions would ‘function outside of our current partnerships with the NFHS and individual state associations.’”
Additionally, a PlayVS rep tried to clarify the company’s announcement, stressing Fortnite’s “club sport” designation. “We understand the sensitivity surrounding what is deemed appropriate for a school setting,” the rep told video game website Polygon. “We also understand the position that the KHSAA has taken due to our announcement being misrepresented. We have made numerous clarifying efforts on social media [and] to press outlets that misrepresented the announcement and will continue to do so.”