Have you heard about esports? If not, you might soon. Esports is competitive videograming, and it’s a wildly popular global phenomenon with a growing professional level.
Among U.S. colleges and universities, many are forming teams, hiring coaches and granting scholarships to the best players, just as they do for athletes in traditional sports. Ohio State University is developing an interdisciplinary curriculum spanning five colleges to focus on video-game studies and esports. The curriculum will include undergraduate and graduate degrees; an elective course in esports content production; online certification programs for specialized credentials; and a gaming speaker series. A state-of-the-art arena is being built on campus to accommodate OSU’s esports teams.
What about high schools? Have esports reached those students, and how are high schools accommodating students’ interest and preparing them to compete on collegiate teams, win scholarships, and take courses that might lead to related careers? To find out more about esports in high schools, we contacted Jeffrey Caranna, who coaches several esports teams for Akron Public Schools and is based at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School:
Q: Tell us about esports and your involvement?
A: Esports, simply put, are video competitions. My role at the high school is the coordinator. I’ve recruited students, created practice schedules, aligned partnerships with the University of Akron and coached the teams in the individual games.
I’m currently working on expanding my program to include kids with a general interest as well.
Q: How many students participate in esports at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School? Do they compete among themselves or against students from other schools?
A: I have 23 kids on my team, but they don’t attend only NIHF STEM High School. We have kids from all over Akron Public Schools. Currently, we represent five of the district’s high schools: STEM, Akron Early College, Firestone Community Learning Center, Ellet and Kenmore-Garfield.
Our current practice area is at the University of Akron. The university has given us a practice space to use twice a week after school. We hold practice from 3-6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
Our teams compete in a few separate leagues. Our “Overwatch” team competes in the High School Esports League (HSEL) and Esports Ohio; our “League of Legends” team competes in PlayVS; our “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” team competes in HSEL; and our “Rocket League” team competes in HSEL, PlayVS and Esports Ohio.
Q: Are esports a growing field of interest at the high school level?
A: Esports is growing rapidly at the high school level. I sent out a survey to every eighth- through 11th-grader in the Akron Public Schools district and received a large response. We had more than 175 kids express interest about either the varsity team or joining an esports club.
Q: What is involved in an esports competition?
A: Currently, most of the leagues that run high school competitions are done entirely online. Depending on the league, these matches can be streamed online through various websites such as Twitch.tv or YouTube.
There is some groundwork being laid to have an in-person competition for next year. I’m working with Esports Ohio on hosting a state championship next year at the University of Akron.
Q: What can be learned by playing competitive esports?
A: My original intent with the program was to provide an opportunity for students who wouldn’t normally be involved in school extracurricular activities. For most of my kids, this is their only after-school activity.
On top of this, it’s becoming a scholarship opportunity for high school kids. I have two of my kids who are trying out for the University of Akron varsity program and have the possibility of earning scholarship money.
Many things can be learned from participating in esports that also can be learned through traditional sports. Teamwork, collaboration and strategizing are just a few skills that are taught and perfected through competition.
Q: Colleges and universities are launching their own leagues for competitive esports, and the Ohio State University is offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in its comprehensive esports program. Why do you think higher education is interested in this area?
A: I think just the growing popularity has led to the inclusion of esports at the collegiate level. The viewership for professional competitions is massive worldwide. It’s being used as a recruiting tool for a lot of colleges now as well. Many universities see it as a way to recruit and retain students who are interested in playing at a collegiate level. The comparisons here are very similar to what traditional collegiate athletics offer.
Q: With this growing interest at the college level, how do you think high schools could or should be preparing their students in this area?
A: I’m trying to prepare my team in many different ways, from teamwork, to practice habits, to individual play mechanics. I want to provide an opportunity to Akron Public School students to earn scholarship money that they would not otherwise have.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about esports and the students who participate in them?
A: Our students are very dedicated to our program. We have students from all over the district who will travel to the University of Akron to practice. This is only growing by the year, and it’s a great motivator for kids to want to do better in school as well.
The friendships formed throughout the year and the bond that our team has created made all of the time after school worth it for me. Our young people would be playing these games online with strangers they will likely never meet, but instead, they now get to play with other kids in their area and create these relationships.
Edited by Patricia Bitler, freelance writer and editor.