Esports get a thumbs up at Battle Ground and Prairie high schools
Oct. 7, 2021
There are two more high school sports teams to cheer on in Battle Ground Public Schools. This week, the esports teams at Battle Ground and Prairie high schools started practice, with the first matches scheduled for Monday, Oct. 11.
Last June, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which governs youth sports in the state, announced a partnership with CSL Esports, the nation’s largest collegiate esports league, to launch a two-year trial of the program.
“Esports is an opportunity to further engage our student populations and provide them with a chance to participate competitively like never before,” said Mick Hoffman, Executive Director of WIAA. “Through this new partnership with CSL Esports, our students will learn important life skills like team building, communication, and sportsmanship.”
Since 2009 CSL Esports has been North America’s largest collegiate esports business and has provided over $1 million in scholarships since. CSL Esports is looking to partner with state and local high school districts, athletic and activities associations, departments of education, and parks & recreation in this new endeavor.
Battle Ground High School business technology teacher and esports coach Rob Pollock said he first learned of the plan about 18 months ago. The district upgraded some library computers and added a handful more with the capacity to run the esports games Rocket League, DOTA 2, and League of Legends, which were chosen for WIAA competitions.
While esports may be an unfamiliar concept to many, it is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the world. The world championships for League of Legends routinely sells out the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and the sport generated $1.79 billion in revenue last year. Some of the sports’ biggest stars earn millions of dollars.
Beyond gaming, the rise of esports is creating other opportunities for students. Programs at universities such as UC Irvine, Boise State and Ohio State offer courses tailored around esports, including business management, marketing, and streaming technologies.
Esports also require a significant level of skill to be successful. Battle Ground Superintendent Denny Waters visited a BGHS practice and learned firsthand how talented the students are in Rocket League.
Justice Rieterer, a freshman at Prairie High School, said he’s been playing Rocket League for about six months and is excited at the chance to try out his skills against other students. “I love it so far,” he said. “The coach’s really good, my teammates are cool. Every day I’m excited to come here and compete.”
A total of 15 students are participating so far, including 10 at Battle Ground and five at Prairie High School. Pollock said if more students want to get involved, it would be relatively easy to scale up or have a rotation depending on the game being played and the skillset of the kids involved.
“They’re learning communication, teamwork, and the skills of being able to navigate these systems,” Pollock said. “Any sort of job you do anywhere you’re going have to navigate new systems, and being able to do that is important.”
Pollock said he’s also heard from several local businesses interested in helping with the program, though details of how that might look are in the early stages. “Whether it’s just supporting the students or being a stream manager, there are all kinds of ways to be involved with this,” he said
WIAA said its goal is to broadcast up to three matches per week through the streaming service Twitch. Pollock and Oliver Root, coach of the Prairie team, said they’re hoping to introduce the ability for people to watch their matches, but that’s still in the planning stage.
The launch of esports as a WIAA-sanctioned sport was made possible when the group’s Representative Assembly approved an amendment allowing the Executive Board to launch a two-year trial of new sports or activities, as long as 20 percent of member schools commit to launching it in the first year, with 40 percent participation required in year two to keep the sport.
A WIAA survey in June of 2020 confirmed a high level of interest around esports. This season, there are 45 high school teams, including Union High School in the Evergreen School District. Both Camas and Washougal school districts also have esports clubs for students.
The cost of esports is comparable to most other school sports and is funded by levy dollars and fees paid by the student participants.
“We want to instil the mindset of getting better,” Pollock said. “Not just being at the level you are, but practicing, working on your weaknesses and moving up the ranks. I’m excited to see where we sit and where we can go from there.”