ESports program debuts at Yellow Springs High School
- Published: March 21, 2023
There’s a new sports team at Yellow Springs High School — but you won’t find its members on a court, field or pitch. Several days a week, the ESports team is in the media center, competing against other schools in their league via computer.
The new after-school ESports program comes thanks to a grant from the YS Community Foundation that allowed the schools to purchase dedicated equipment, including computers and gaming chairs. According to Eli Hurwitz, the district’s media and technology specialist and ESports coach, the team — which is actually several groups that compete in different games after school — formed due to student interest.
“This is something a lot of kids wanted,” he said during a recent after-school match. “Once we knew there was interest, we reached out to the Community Foundation.”
While Hurwitz spoke with the News, the ESports team played “Rocket League,” a game described by its developers as “soccer, but with rocket-powered cars.” Sure enough, on a large monitor displayed over the row of computers where six students were playing, different colored cars rolled over a large, fantastical soccer pitch, their wheels and bumpers volleying a ball back and forth. That day, Yellow Springs students were competing against teams from Louisville, Ohio, and Miamisburg.
As they did so, ESports team members shouted instructions and information to one another — “I just hit one!” “Hey, me personally? I would come around on the other side!” “Yo, that was nice!” — bringing the library to vibrant life.
“Last night was really loud,” Hurwitz said of the previous day’s match with a laugh. “It was very exciting.”
“Rocket League” is the game of choice each Wednesday afternoon; on Mondays, students play the battle-royale and resource management game “Fortnite.” On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the focus is on “hero-based” multiplayer tactical shooter games, “Overwatch” and “Valorant,” respectively.
Competitions take place through Esports Ohio, a nonprofit organization and league formed several years ago with the goal of creating “a world where electronic sports are embraced as a positive educational and developmental change agent for all students,” according to the institution’s website. All games sponsored by the league, including those played in Yellow Springs, have an Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, rating of “Everyone” (for ages 10 and up) or “Teen” (for ages 13 and up).
About 300 schools in Ohio field ESports teams through ESports Ohio; earlier this year, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, or OHSAA, announced a partnership with ESports Ohio, aiming to promote the league’s annual state tournament this May.
In an email to the News this week, YS Athletic Director Jeff Eyrich wrote that the schools’ goal “has been to increase the extracurricular options and participation of … students.”
“ESports offers more than playing video games,” Eyrich wrote. “It gives [students] the opportunity to compete, work together, improve communication skills, increase hand-eye coordination, and ultimately provide secondary education opportunities if they wish to pursue it. It’s a win-win situation.”
Hurwitz agreed: “All of the skills you learn in a sport are the skills you’re learning here,” he said. “They’re all wearing headsets, and they’re actually listening to each other. There’s focus, communication, teamwork — it’s a sport.”
He added that it’s not uncommon for players from established high school ESports teams to be scouted for college teams and offered scholarships, as is the case for students who play traditional sports.
At the time of reporting, Yellow Springs High School’s premier team — players are divided into premier and reserve teams — was ranked third of eight teams in its division for “Overwatch,” with three wins and two losses; and seventh of eight teams for “Valorant,” with no wins, two losses and two ties. (Stats were unavailable for “Rocket League” and “Fortnite” at the time of reporting.)
“We have come in middle-of-the-pack in every ‘Fortnite’ match, and these guys are getting better [at ‘Rocket League’] every week,” Hurwitz said.
Though boys dominate the roster for the burgeoning ESports team, which currently has about 25 members, girls and gender-nonconforming students have also joined as the team’s first seven-week season has progressed; Hurwitz said he’d like to encourage more diversity on the team. Because the after-school program is still new, he said, he expects some students to need a little more time before their interest is piqued.
“We’ve got two things that are tough for kids: thinking that [games are played] in front of everybody — they’re not — and the other is that a lot of our kids are now playing mature games at home, and they’re no longer interested in the teen games,” he said.
Nevertheless, ESports has been successful enough that the school district is hoping to expand the program into McKinney Middle School next year. As of this report, Hurwitz was able to fund an online donation campaign for the purchase of Nintendo Switch consoles, which will increase the number of games available through ESports Ohio.
For some students, ESports is the only extracurricular activity in which they’re involved — a marker, Hurwitz said, of its importance in the schools.
“A lot of students play as individuals — they’re just playing by themselves in their rooms,” he said. “Here in school, they’re playing with a group — they’re a team, and they can talk about it at lunch.”
He added: “They have a new connection with people they used to see every day and wouldn’t necessarily have interacted with — but now they share this one thing they didn’t know they shared.”
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