Esports as a college and high school sport is growing as a means of teaching kids sportsmanship and competition, both in the Dayton area and around the nation.
Several local schools are part of Esports Ohio, a nonprofit organization that facilitates tournaments among Ohio high schools. The organization has grown in the last five years from nine schools to over 200, as school administrators and tournament organizers say video games can provide an opportunity to teach sportsmanship, teamwork, and other qualities of team sports to students that might not otherwise be able to participate in them.
Though students practice and play the games on their own time, the idea that kids are “playing for six hours in their parents’ basement,” is a misconception, said Jacob Gebers, president of the Esports Ohio board of directors.
“What we’re really seeing is this is a lot of kids’ first sport that they’re actually participating in, and without esports, those kids aren’t getting that opportunity to be with others, to work with others, and to see what it’s like to be in a team environment.”
‘Just a connection thing’
At Global Impact STEM Academy (GISA) in Springfield, a classroom has been converted to an esports arena and design lab. Coaches Alex Henz and Sam Klug manage the school’s esports team, the GISA Geese, with a focus on making sure the culture of the team is inclusive for all students to play.
“The thing we really focus on here, beyond just playing, is how to play any of the games without becoming toxic. Like any other athletic association, if you’re talking trash to a person or being demeaning or cursing, like you’ll get violations in the same way,” Klug said.
Many schools with esports programs also use the same labs for other computer classes, as well as video and photo editing.
High school esports programs vary across schools, but for schools that are part of Esports Ohio, the eight-week season typically consists of a match night and a practice night each week. They usually play in the same room.
“It’s easier to communicate when we can see each other’s screens, and see what people are doing and how we can help improve or help our teammates,” said Regan Herzog, a sophomore at GISA.
“It’s just a connection thing. Being able to just bond with them in person rather than just hearing their voice through speakers. It’s really just a different experience,” said Elise Hess.
High school esports players can earn scholarships to colleges that have esports teams, but adoption of esports programs at the collegiate level has been slow for multiple reasons, said Robert Hanes, esports business professor at Miami University at Oxford.
“There are areas in all of collegiate esports right now that are struggling,” he said. “Number one is recruiting. The only people who do it are the ones who already chose to go to that university and they found out that they had an esports team. Only a few, realistically, are good enough.”
Additionally, many schools, both at the high school and college level, are still skeptical of the idea, Gebers said.
“There’s always schools out there that are still apprehensive or that will remain apprehensive,” Gebers said. “We’re always there to continue to give presentations and educate on what esports is and what it isn’t, since a lot of that comes from public perception that may or may not be accurate.”
For the very few esports players that become professionals, most do so straight out of high school, and unlike American football or other traditional sports, very few players go pro out of college level play. Gebers estimated that the number of players even among esports participants that go pro is less than 1%.
“The difference between traditional sports and esports, especially here in the United States, is that if you’re good enough at the age of 15 or 16, you’re being scouted,” Hanes said.
While it is possible to make money as a professional esports player — some at the highest level earn prize money in the millions — the exact terms of most of these contracts are under non-disclosure agreements, according to online publication Esports Grizzly. Analysis by the same site estimated the average esports contract salary around $50,000 to $75,000 annually, not including tournament winnings or other supplemental income.
For most kids, however, the most important thing the sport offers is a sense of camaraderie and an opportunity to bond with friends.
“I just think if more places and high schools and businesses just embraced that video games are a part of the true culture of America and people who are growing up with it, I would say that’d be the first step,” Hanes said.
Inside esports series
This story is part of a three-part series on how the national growth of esports is impacting our region. Read other parts of the series this week in your paper, your ePaper or on our website.
Sunday - How local kids and businesses are getting in on the multi-billion dollar esports industry
Monday - How one local business is outfitting the next generation of gamers
Today - The growth of high school esports programs