Earlier this fall, Snider High School rolled out the first high school esports program in the area. Now, they’re competing four days a week and already ranked nationally.
At Snider, the students aren’t just ‘playing video games.’ They’re taking it as seriously as playing football or competing in a science fair. For these kids, they aren’t just games. They’re a possible key to their future.
“It’s estimated that there’s $16 million annually available for esports students. And 12 out of the 14 Big Ten schools compete in League of Legends alone.”
Joseph Wilhelm teaches physics and chemistry at Snider, and he also coaches the esports teams at the school. He spoke in September about the benefits of e-sports and how they compare to other, more traditional sports.
“We’re not separating students based on age, gender, geographic location or physical ability. These are a lot of times barriers to traditional sports, but they’re not barriers to our esports students.”
On top of allowing students to find a sport that suits them, regardless of physical ability, esports are a growing industry worldwide. According to a Business Insider report, North America is the second largest esports market.
In 2018, the League of Legends World Championship brought in more viewers than the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four combined. More than 100 colleges and universities offer scholarships in esports.
Wilhelm says it isn’t only about what students can achieve in the future, but also about how they’re doing currently.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement in our students, like behaviorally and academically, even attendance-wise. Even just since we just announced that we were gonna do esports. So, it really gives them a reason to kind of be motivated to do school. Because a lot of these students don’t have that.”
Wilhelm says we can tell students that school is important, but it’s hard for them to really see it at their age. Knowing what doors esports can open up for them, offers that, while also holding them to high academic standards in order to continue competing.
After three years of planning and with the pandemic throwing a wrench into their plans, Snider’s esports program didn’t begin in earnest until this year, but Wilhelm says they already have over 50 students competing and they’re working to grow the program even more.
The teams began competing at the beginning of October and Wilhelm says they were quickly ranking very high, even early in the season.
“Most of our, what I would call, quote-varsity teams are doing really well. In fact, they’re all undefeated currently.”
One player, Tyrese Ellis, is the captain of the black team for Rocket League. Ellis is a sophomore, but he already holds the highest rank a player can in the game, Grand Champ. Wilhelm says Ellis is close to the number one ranked player in the Fort Wayne area.
“Which is pretty cool for a high school student, especially a sophomore. So, he’s got a few years even yet to grow and I suspect that he could go further in Rocket League even after he’s done here.”
Ellis says he got involved through a teacher who already knew he was good at Rocket League.
But it’s not just about one player. The game, and all of the games Snider competes in, require a team. Ellis says working with a team gives a greater opportunity to grow and learn from mistakes.
“I just love doing it cause, like, at the end of the day, if I lose, it isn’t just gonna be like because it’s my fault. It’s a team effort. You know, if we lose as a team, we look back at it as a replay and we learn better from it.”
Snider streams each game on the website Twitch. And, much like football players, the teams review their previous matches and discuss strategies and where they can work better together.
Ethan McInturf is also a sophomore, but his game is Valorant, a tactical first-person shooter that requires your team to work together to win. He says the game is different, because there’s a lot of respect between players.
“No one’s mean to one another. There’s always the joshing and pushing you to do better. But there’s never really any disrespect among teammates.”
The Snider coaches discourage their students from engaging in any sort of smack talk with other teams — even when they’re being bated.
In traditional high school sports, each week teams compete against other area schools. In esports, they may be playing against a team from the other side of the country every week. Snider has competed against teams in Los Angeles, California and Brooklyn, New York.
It gives students the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the country.
In September, the teams received a check for 10 thousand dollars from Fort Wayne software company Aptera. Wilhelm says he knew they would need to start forming partnerships to help them expand the program.
He says he knew the CEO of the company was a Snider graduate, but he just reached out through the contact page on the website, saying who he was and what he was trying to do.
“And then about eight hours later, TK, the CEO, emailed me back personally and said ‘sure, we’d love to come out and learn more.’”
Wilhelm says the partnership with Aptera will be long term, but he’s still looking for smaller, more targeted partnerships. He says they’re also hoping to broadcast games at some point, and looking for a partnership that can make that happen.
Ellis says just having the opportunity to play is a big deal.
“You don’t always have a lot of chances to be in an esports league, especially for Rocket League. And it’s pretty great that, you know, my school is basically giving me that opportunity to do so.”
The teams will continue to compete throughout the fall and you can find all of their games livestreamed on Twitch.