Playing video games and studying for school may seem like two things that don’t have much in common. But for some Nevada High School students, they will soon be linked.
The Nevada School Board on April 20 approved a proposal from the school’s Activities and Technology departments to start a program for the upcoming school year in esports, a team videogaming competition.
Nevada High School Activities Director Dustin Smith said the program is aimed at certain students who may not be involved in other sports.
“The biggest benefit of the program is it gives kids who don’t fit into a traditional activity [basketball, band, football, golf, etc.] a sense of school community and school spirit,” Joe Wakeman, Director of Technology, said. “A lot of kids are playing these games anyway, so why not let them be part of a school team.”
Smith said research shows students involved in esports who had not previously participated on a sports team have better attendance and improved their grades. He pointed out that, as with students who play traditional sports, Esports athletes will have to adhere to the school district’s code of conduct and have passing grades to be able to compete.
“Some of the best players at other schools were students who were previously not doing well,” Wakeman said. “Esports made them feel like they had a reason to come to school. You also have a lot of friendships that form that may not have happened otherwise.”
Smith said some other benefits of the new program include teaching the student athletes flexibility and adaptability, teamwork and communication skills and instilling a work ethic.
“Those [positive attributes] align with our learning targets for school in general,” he said.
There will be two Esports teams both in the fall and spring. One fall team will play the video game Overwatch, and the other will play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Overwatch will consist of six players and Super Smash Brothers, five.
Smith said the two teams’ seasons will run simultaneously. For example, he said the team that plays Overwatch could play Tuesday while the squad that plays Super Smash Brothers could play Thursday. Each team will play one contest a week remotely from Nevada High School. Wakeman said a media center study room in the high school will be converted into an esports competition area on game days.
A season-ending tournament will take place after eight weeks, featuring the top eight teams. Smith said there will be active junior varsity and varsity teams if enough students decide they want to participate in the program.
No players will be cut, but the team a student plays on and how much he or she will compete in games will be decided by the coach. Smith said some athletes might just attend practice, while others will play games based on an individual player’s skill level.
During the spring season, one team will play the video game League of Legends and the other team will play Rocket League. The League of Legends team will consist of five players, while the Rocket League squad will be made up of three. Wakeman said a student could possibly play on both fall or spring teams, but it will depend on how many people sign up for the program and when the games are scheduled.
Nevada will be part of the Iowa High School Esports Association. Smith said although schools with Esports teams are not as widespread in central Iowa, they have become more visible in other parts of the state. Schools with Esports programs are particularly ubiquitous around Cedar Rapids (Williamsburg, Mid-Prairie, Iowa City West, Mount Vernon, Liberty) and Mason City (Belmond-Klemme, West Fork, Newman Catholic, Saint Ansgar, Osage).
Smith said he thinks esports programs will become prevalent in this part of the state, too.
“I think it will become more of a thing,” he said.
Surveys conducted with Nevada students revealed an interest in esports, with positive responses from 178 students in grades 6-11.
“It was a significant amount of people,” Smith said
While middle school students will not competition esports games, Wakeman said he wanted to gauge their interest in the program.
Wakeman said he and Smith first discussed the possibility of starting an Esports program about a year ago, and began to get “super serious” about it in February. He said Smith attended a National Association of ESports Coaches and Directors at Grand View University in Des Moines in March 2019 to learn more. Smith, Wakeman and Nevada Middle School Assistant Principal/Activities Director Tony Sneiderman also attended a National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors clinic this March. Wakeman said they learned about the millions of dollars in scholarships being offered to esports athletes. NAECAD includes 175 colleges and universities.
The first televised esports event was for the gamer Halo 2 and was featured on the USA Network. League of Legends had its first world championship in 2011, and in 2013, a championship at the Staple Centers in Los Angeles sold out within minutes.
Esports is expected to bring in $2 billion in revenue by 2021. There are millions of dollars currently available from colleges across the country for Esports scholarships – many even a full ride. In addition, the International Olympics Committee is considering adding esports to the Olympics in the future. Esports has been aired on ESPN 2, Disney XD, BBC and TBS.
Originally posted in the Nevada Journal.