AURORA | Video games aren’t what people tend to first think of when discussing competitive sports, but after establishing a pilot program three years ago eSports will be a fully sanctioned activity under the Colorado High School Activities Association in 2023.
In April, the eSports teams at Cherry Creek High School and Grandview High School came away with championships in Super Smash Bros and League of Legends. Coaches say the sport gives kids who aren’t into traditional athletics another way to be part of a team, and that some students have been offered college scholarships for the activity.
“It’s something that I’m very passionate about because it gives kids who aren’t involved in other activities the opportunity to get involved and compete for their school,” said Alex Bak, Cherry Creek biology teacher and eSports coach, who also sits on CHSAA’s advisory committee for the activity.
League of Legends and Rocket League were the first two games sanctioned under the CHSAA pilot, and the Grandview team won back to back League of Legends championships in 2020 and 2021. This year, Super Smash Bros was added to the roster and the team won the inaugural state championship at the April competition.
“It was really cool for my kids to be the first ones to win,” Bak said. The Smash team consisted of all seniors, so it made for a fitting end to their high school careers.
Overall about 160 students are involved in the eSports club, Bak said, with 50 to 60 on the competitive teams. Others help to coach and coordinate strategy for competitions or run the team’s twitch stream and website.
“There’s tons of different ways to get involved,” she said.
Like Bak, Grandview High School social studies teacher Carlos Nevares is a gamer. He was a first year teacher when the eSports pilot began and asked to coach the team as a way to get to know the school better. This spring, he led the team to victory in League of Legends, beating out Cherry Creek and 15 other schools for the top spot.
“I just got lucky, it was very much less me coaching and really that my kids were up to the task,” he said, praising the team for its commitment. “I was more of a manager, making sure kids were doing their practices and showing up to the games.”
Bak and Nevares said that initially some parents were skeptical about eSports and didn’t see it as a legitimate activity but overall have been very supportive, especially after they understood that their kids could win awards and even get scholarship money for playing the sport.
Some smaller colleges who don’t have high-profile sports teams are trying to make a name for themselves in the eSports world, Bak said. She has had students accept scholarship offers from Miami University in Ohio and the University of Missouri.
“If your kids are already doing this, why not channel that into something that’s positive?” Nevares said. Video games may not look like a traditional sport, but students still get all the same benefits and life skills of being part of a team.
The sport was especially conducive to helping students maintain a sense of community during the pandemic. Because they didn’t need to be in the same place, they could keep practicing during remote learning while using the social media platform Discord to communicate.
“It definitely has been a way for kids to stay connected, even from home,” Bak said.
With eSports set to become a fully sanctioned CHSAA activity next year, it will only become more popular. The coaches encourage students of any skill level who love video games to come to tryouts this fall.
“If all these other activities aren’t meeting your needs, eSports could be that outlet for you,” Nevares said.