FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) – Esports is rapidly growing with more schools launching programs for students and, here in Fort Wayne, The University of Saint Francis and Snider High School recently formed arenas, paving a new pathway for students’ futures and guiding career opportunities.
The University of Saint Francis
In the Spring of 2020, Saint Francis announced its esports program, inviting alumnus Vaughn Gallagher to lead the team as head coach. Gallagher earned a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design and works as a web developer for Asher Agency. He’s also an experienced competitive gamer.
“I played soccer in the beginning and that’s kind of where I fell in love with the itch for competitive playing,” said Gallagher.
Gallagher played soccer since middle school and went to Saint Francis on an athletic scholarship; and while esports is a different kind of sport, he says, it still requires hard work, hours of practice and communication.
The similarities between this emerging sport and more traditional sports are there. Gallagher said, the only thing missing is the physical contact like other sports.
“Your child will learn the same aspects as they would from traditional sports,” he said. “If they were playing football they’d learn about that hard work, they’d learn about that time management, they’d learn about putting in the time to become better at something, and in the same regard you learn that from esports.”
While people might think video games are simply one person sitting alone in a room, he says, it is a social environment.
“It doesn’t isolate people, it doesn’t make them lone wolves, it actually turns them much more into like, communication is the key,” Gallagher said. “If you listen to our team, they’re always saying behind, behind, behind, we got a flank, anything like that, their communication is impeccable.”
Saint Francis Senior Skylar Batzka
Batzka is the Overwatch team captain and as an animation student, her experience managing a team is helping her in her classwork.
“As a team manager for a student animation here that we’re producing, the experience of having a team to manage here and kind of direct them on the right path is helping me,” said Batzka.
Parents can do a quick search online and find toxic things out there about video games, she said, there are positives to esports, like team building, lots of communication and friendships being made.
“If I had had this at high school, I think I would have had a lot more team-building skills, managing skills and I think it would have overall helped me,” Batzka said.
Snider High School Esports
At the high school level, Snider was the first in the area to form its esports team.
“A lot of students are not doing super well academically, especially right now cause everything’s different with COVID they’re struggling with reasons of why they want to come to school in the first place and why they want to do school work and it’s hard because a lot of times there isn’t an internal motivator and some students don’t have an external motivator either,” said Snider Esports Director Wilhelm.
The esports team has helped motivate students to have better grades and want to succeed, said Esports Director Wilhelm. Snider has a policy that if students are failing any classes, they can’t play, attend practices or competitions until they’re passing.
“We also have behavior standards and attendance standards as well, so right now as a result of the students’ work really and the motivation that esports provides, we currently don’t have any students failing any classes in our program,” said Wilhelm.
Snider Sophomore Tyrese Ellis
But the cool part, he says, is many of these students are finally finding a place to fit in. One of those students is Tyrese Ellis, who struggled with motivation and was failing his classes. Now as a sophomore, he’s not only passing all of his classes but excelling in some.
“Tyrese is kind of a success story of why we developed the program in the first place… [he] kind of really latched on to esports as a viable career path and college path and kind of sees a goal,” said Wilhelm.
Tyrese Ellis says his next goal is to have all A’s and B’s.
“It gives me more motivation cause I don’t want to have a low grade and I’m in esports and it could affect me a lot in a lot of cases,” said Ellis.
Tyrese’s mom, LaTonya Ellis understands not all parents will accept this emerging sport, but she’s seen the benefits for her son firsthand.
“Tyrese was a child who was born early… he’s had his adversities and being a premature child, a lot of things were stacked against him from the moment he was born and this arena gave Tyrese the encouragement, gave Tyrese the self-esteem and it gave him character-building skills,” she said.
Tyrese was a professional gamer when he was about 10-years-old, his mom said. He was paid through a company to play, had endorsers and ran the contract out until he was almost 12-years-old.
Now, he’s a part of something even bigger, a team.
“I’m talking about a kid who was very secluded and very reserved to have friends and to have a team and so for me I wanted to keep building him as a character, as a person, as a man,” LaTonya Ellis said. “But also I want this to be able to get him in his doorway to school. This is definitely scholarship material.”
According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), over 200 member universities contribute more than $16 million annually in esports scholarships.
“Don’t think your son is just sitting in his room playing games all day. He could truly be making more than you are. Encourage him just like you would any other sport, encouragement.”
LaTonya Ellis, Tyrese’s Mom
Here in Fort Wayne, The University of Saint Francis is forming esports scholarships, hoping to offer them as soon as this Spring.