The world of competitive video gaming has come to the Broomfield area this school year.
Electronic sports, better known as esports, is being offered at Broomfield High School and Jefferson Academy this year. Both schools are underway with the program, with Broomfield scheduled for its first competitions this week and Jefferson Academy already having competitions played this year.
Esports came into the spotlight to the general public last spring when the Colorado High School Activities Association announced a pilot year of esports offered through PlayVS, a company that brings esports to schools online. It will be considered as an activity sanctioned by CHSAA, similar to speech, music and debate programs.
“Esports has the potential to provide opportunities for more students to become engaged in their school and communities,” CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said after esports was approved for a pilot year. “Many of these participants may not be involved in any other activity in their school. Esports will provide the same opportunity to this population that many other traditional sports and activities have provided to other students in their schools.”
When CHSAA announced the pilot year, it led to schools looking into offering the activity. Some schools and districts like the St. Vrain School District and Adams 12 School District said that even though they are not offering esports at any of their schools this year, they are monitoring the pilot program and its potential to add it down the road.
Broomfield High School was one school that wanted to take on the pilot program for the Boulder Valley School District.
“For me, we’re always looking, whether it’s with different clubs that we offer or different things that we can do,” Broomfield athletic director Steven Shelton said. “We recognize that kids that are connected with school do better in school. That’s pretty common knowledge. We’re always looking for ways to reach out and connect with kids that we don’t always connect with the mainstream athletic programs. Not everyone is going to be a great football player, not everyone is a great gymnast.”
Shelton and other athletic directors from the state got a glimpse of what esports is like during the summer when CHSAA had students from Gateway High School put on a demonstration at their summit. It was then Shelton knew that esports would be the right fit for his school.
“We got to see the kids do their thing,” Shelton said. “Just looking at the sample of kids that were there reinforced to me that this is the right thing to do to try and reach out.”
While many schools began looking into esports with CHSAA’s pilot program announcement, others like Jefferson Academy were looking before it was announced. Jennifer Davis, a computer science teacher who also serves in the IT department for the school, was researching esports and looking to bring it to the school for the 2019-20 school year. Unlike Broomfield, Jefferson Academy will be participating in esports in a separate league not affiliated with CHSAA called the High School Esports League.
“This is national and has a ton of teams,” Davis said. “We were initially looking to do both the High School Esports League and PlayVS (with CHSAA), but we couldn’t get a League of Legends team together. A lot of it had to do with cost.”
In both leagues, schools put together a team of players who work together to compete against other schools in winning a video game competition. Schools compete like a sports team does with scheduled competitions against other schools, with those competitions taking place in the computer lab and online versus on a field or court. Teams also hold practice sessions for students to train and learn the game while competing and working with each other.
The CHSAA program will feature a fall season where schools play League of Legends that runs from October through December and will have a playoff bracket in January. League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle game that is one of the biggest titles in esports today. From February through April, schools will play Rocket League, a vehicular soccer game, and the playoffs will take place in May.
“With League of Legends, there are five-person teams and four of them play at once,” Shelton said. “They have to have a headset so they can communicate with each other as they work through the game. There is a ($64) fee (for the entire season) that goes to the PlayVS company that organizes it and makes the connection to play the other schools online, sets the schedule up and does the game management of the process. Those are the only two roadblocks for the kids.”
Jefferson Academy’s esports program is similar with kids required to have a headset for competition, but their fee is slightly lower at $37. The High School Esports League offers more games the school can participate in. Games that Jefferson Academy will compete in this fall is led by three teams competing in Overwatch, a colorful team-based shooter, with competitions taking place on Mondays. Other students will be playing Minecraft, Rocket League, Hearthstone and Fortnite during the week.
“With the High School Esports League, they are running three seasons that matches with our athletic seasons,” Davis said. “PlayVS is running just two seasons, so the winter and spring makes it a little tough when they are running February through May. You run through two sports seasons.”
There has been no shortage of interest generated with the esports programs so far, and each school believes that numbers will continue to go up as the school year moves on.
“We did a two-day signup to see what our interest would be, and we have over 40 kids that are interested in doing esports in year one,” Shelton said. “I think once we get them in the room and playing, that number is only going to go up. I’m not going to be surprised if we’re going to be talking 80 to 100 kids before the season is done that want to have some of this piece of the pie and start playing and competing against each other this way.”
Jefferson Academy had roughly 120 students express interest in participating in esports in a survey conducted while the program was getting started. The school has around 28 students participating in the fall season and Davis expects the number to go up as the school year continues, most notably in the winter when the school only offers basketball for a sport.
In addition to the player support, both schools claim that parents have been supportive of starting the esports programs and paving the way for new students to get involved with a school activity.
“The only negative reaction was if we were looking at mature(-rated) games, but we chose not to play any of those games, so that took it out of the equation,” Davis said. “I haven’t had any other negative response. It’s been all positive.”