PERRY — In early 2018, Perry Public Schools information technology director Zach Garner and technician Josh Bohnard created an after-school eSports program for high school students.
eSports is competitive video game-playing. Players can compete both individually and in teams. The different games themselves are like different types of sports.
After a successful semester competing in the High School eSports League playing “League of Legends,” the program is in full swing going into the 2018-19 school year.
“It was an awesome experience last year,” Garner said. “We introduced it early in the second semester, but this year we’re looking forward to having enough time to get everything ready and up to speed.”
Getting things ready will be no easy task. The teachers are working on renovating and remodeling a room in the media center that students will use for the program.
The room will feature computers along the walls with a large screen and speakers in front.
Perry Superintendent Mike Foster, who began playing video games on the Apple II, said the eSports program is something he supports as a way to involve a different group of students.
“More than anything else, (the program) takes a group of kids who don’t have any significant attachment to school — other than they have to go — and gives them something to grab onto and really enjoy,” Foster said.
Foster said students are more involved in school if they have activities they enjoy. For those who don’t compete in physical sports, the eSports program gives them a new extracurricular activity.
“We have found that the next wave through high school is eSports,” Foster said. “We jumped in at the very beginning with the anticipation that it won’t be long before a lot more schools are doing it.”
Perry High School is a part of the High School eSports League, the largest eSports league in the country. Their mission is to provide high school level eSports in a comfortable environment with competition in games like “League of Legends,” “Rocket League” and “Overwatch.”
Along with those three games, Perry High School plans to also play “Super Smash Bros.,” “Hearthstone,” “Heroes of the Storm” and arguably the most popular video game to date, “Fortnite.”
Some games require more of an individual performance than others, but like any other sport, eSports requires communication and teamwork among the members of your team.
In May, Epic Games — the developer of “Fortnite” — announced it would provide $100 million for Fortnite competition prize pools in the games’ first year. That figure made “Fortnite” one of the most lucrative eSports games in history, and the money is not much of an issue for Epic Games as Forbes reported “Fortnite” was averaging more than $1 million a day in player spending, or $500 million this year if the trend continues.
Formed in 2016, The National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE) has more than 80 member schools, 1,500 student-athletes and $9 million in eSports scholarships and aid.
For Garner and Bohnard, the experience kids are receiving as members of a high school eSports team puts them at an advantage for college programs.
“Colleges are desperate right now for eSports players because they’re all developing their teams as well,” Garner said. “Just having the experience of participating on an eSports team ahead of time is enough to put our students at the next level.”
The Perry High School eSports teams’ season will start in mid-September. Garner and Bohnard plan to have the room completely finished within the next month and a half.