The World of Sports Has Gone Digital
The Mansfield School District has a long history of success in sports.
And not just those played on a field or in a gym.
One of the fastest growing sports on the planet is played on a computer – esports, a shortened term for electronic sports. Like the name says, it features games played electronically, and students at the Ben Barber Innovation Academy are excelling via the school district’s Esports Club.
“We started over five years ago as school districts across the country saw the need to reach and engage students who play games competitively,” said Dr. Kashieka Popkin-Duncan, Business Education Teacher and Esports Club sponsor at Ben Barber.
The club currently has 40 students in grades 9-12 from throughout the district. They meet each Wednesday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. to compete against other students from across the nation.
Popkin-Duncan said students are required to have experience playing the games in which they would like to compete. They will also learn from others and help others to develop the skills needed to be competitive.
“There’s not a lot of clubs like this that are putting out the money to get computers and pay for tournaments just so these kids can try to pursue that later in their career,” said Yaden Gant, a junior at Lake Ridge High School who is a part of the club.
Students in the organization compete online via computer or console, such as an Xbox or PlayStation. Through the competitions, their skills are able to be seen by higher education institutions and even professional esports leagues.
Miles Myers, a senior at Timberview High School and club member, received a college scholarship for video gaming, the club’s first. He has been playing since he was young and perfecting his skills every day.
“I was offered a $17,000 scholarship to Ottawa University, which has a very good esports program,” Myers said. “It was a dream come true honestly. I never thought I’d get to this point. It’s so different from baseball and football.”
Scholarships to Play Esports
Popkin-Duncan said the hope is more students will receive scholarships to play esports, adding the district is putting in place other mechanisms that would make them more attractive to college scouts.
“Right now, a lot of the universities are having esports directors,” she said. “So they’re recruiting students for their team, the same way you have recruiters for football or for basketball, we have recruiters for esports now.”
Apart from the love of gaming, students in Ben Barber’s esports club build a comradery, noting they love to meet fellow online gamers in person.
“My favorite part would definitely be playing with all my friends and getting to meet the new people,” said Lake Ridge junior Luke Jaksik.
Popkin-Duncan stressed that she likes providing a safe and nurturing place for the gamers to go and be themselves.
“For me, the joy of them now being able to physically come here, and see each other, and talk and build lifelong friendships is just a pleasure,” she said. “It provides students another avenue to meet and interact with other students across the nation as well as around the world. They learn how to collaborate, communicate and share. They are global learners.”
The cost to participate in the club is $40. The funds are used to pay for the students’ game pass access for Generation ESport League (high school esports).