How a Video Game Club Connected My High School Students to the Massive World of Esports

A struggling sophomore named Tyler asked me to give him a place to play video games after school. He knew that I build computers and used to be a tournament player in the '90s; I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to grow our relationship and maybe motivate him in class. We pulled some ancient computers out of surplus, refurbished them as best as we could, and started playing after school. As word spread, other students started bringing their computers and consoles to school for lunchtime and Friday after-school tournaments. In no time, we expanded from our school to a handful of other schools in Fort Worth ISD. Our numbers exponentially increased each year, as did the number of teams, their desire to compete at a high level and the number of collegiate relationships we were making. The most exciting part is that as student interest grew, their grades and behavior followed suite. By the time he was a senior, Tyler was being scouted by several North Texas universities.Given its popularity, as well as the many opportunities that it offers our young people, it is important that we support the growth of middle-and high-school esports initiatives in our public schools. The inclusion of esports in schools allows teachers to reinforce social and emotional skills, enhances academic experiences, taps into undiscovered leadership, and helps to connect with otherwise unengaged students who would fall through the cracks. We can use esports to build a strong sense of community and tie it into academics to help make pathways for college and career success.Esports is now a multi-billion dollar industry, Reuters reports, and is increasingly becoming mainstream. Activate Inc. technology consulting firm estimates viewership of esports will surpass that of the NFL by 2022. Student athletes can now earn esports scholarships from a growing number of universities, including Texas Wesleyan, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas. Last year, Arlington opened the largest esports stadium in North America, a massive $10 million undertaking. And 2019 marked the first appearance of the international expo, DreamHack, in Texas. Esports has become a big deal — especially to young people. Even the University Interscholastic League has taken notice of the sport's growing popularity, and is considering adding it as an official high school competition.A high school esports team has six to eight competitors who must try out for a spot, maintain good academic standing, practice several times a week and compete on certain days. Team members can choose their discipline. Each game requires a similar but specialized skill set. This focus and dedication are what separates playing esports from simply playing video games. Students made the decision to add physical activity as part of their training regimen after we studied the effects of being sedentary and researched the length of professional matches, which can be hours long. Students choose various exercises to do weekly; some prefer yoga, some prefer running, and many are also involved with traditional sports training. To be truly competitive in esports, e-athletes have to have both mental and physical stamina. In addition to making sure that students are staying active, coaches also teach and enforce healthy posture habits to make sure that our students are healthy and injury free.One of the best days of my career was when a parent of a new student sent me an email saying her child never cared for or did well in school until he joined the esports team. Now, she told me, "he can't wait to go to school every day. He doesn't even want to stay home when he's sick anymore." Over the course of one semester, the student's grades rose. When I talked to him after competing at DreamHack alongside some of his gaming idols, he told me, "I wish I had left that other school sooner. This is the best school ever!" Stories like these are not isolated.Giving students a place to build a community around their shared interest helps them focus, provides a safe place to learn soft skills and provides both STEM and career pathways for students after graduation. The skills students hone while participating in esports links to many college majors, including business and computer science. As I built the esports teams at Arlington Heights High School, these themes kept appearing over and over again: previously struggling students finding a purpose, a community, a sense of belonging and a sense of direction. As the UIL and universities embrace esports, we need to support our students' passion and drive to help them succeed in this new frontier.Nick Clark teaches math at Arlington Heights High School. He is the executive director of esports for Ft. Worth ISD and a Teach Plus DFW Teaching Policy Fellow. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.   Continue reading...

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