In May 2019, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) Executive Committee approved a request from the VHSL staff to approve a one-year pilot for electronic sports (esports). Esports is not video gaming but an organized, competitive activity governed by rules and guidelines between two teams.
Esports competitions have grown in recent years. There are over 400 million viewers worldwide. Currently, over 200 colleges and universities offer approximately 15 million dollars in scholarships. Some colleges and universities, including Shenandoah University in Winchester, are offering degrees in esports. Shenandoah University has positioned itself as one of the nation’s premier leaders in esports academia with the creation of its new esports major, which will be rolled out in fall 2019. Employment opportunities in the fields related to esports include positions in broadcasting, marketing, graphic design, multimedia production, hospitality, coaching, and management.
Like all other VHSL education based activities, students participating in esports will be required to meet academic eligibility requirements. School teams will have a coach and required practice times, so students will have to find the balance between practice, games, and schoolwork. By participating on an organized school team, rules and practice schedules regarding the amount of time students spend on the activity will be set and monitored.
Students who never saw themselves as part of a team representing their schools are now doing that through esports. There is much research on the benefits of students participating in extracurricular activities. Those same benefits apply to students participating on school esports teams. Esports promotes cooperation, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, analyzing data and using strategy. Many times, developing these skills tend to move students towards more engagement in STEM activities and courses.
As in any competition, esports provides students with challenges, successes and failures. Players learn how to build grit and handle these situations. Employers and colleges are looking for this in graduates. Being part of a school team also helps to build a sense of community. One Virginia high school principal said, “I found esports opened a door for students to participate in a school activity that requires teamwork, communication, physical skills and mental preparation. Esports skills are transferable to the real-world.”
The VHSL will partner with PlayVS, the official high school esports platform and partner of the National Federation of State H–Bigh School Associations (NFHS). All games offered are either rated “T for Teen” (13 years-or-older) or “E for Everyone” (games for all ages). Games currently offered by PlayVS are League of Legends, Smite, andRocket League. There are two seasons each school year; Fall – October to January and Spring – February to May.
Throughout the year, the VHSL staff will work to assist schools who are interested in sponsoring a team and participating in the PlayVS league(s). At the end of the year information concerning feedback from participating schools, parents and students will be presented to the Executive Committee. They will then decide on whether to continue the pilot, make esports a VHSL sponsored academic activity or to no longer support esports.
The mission of the Virginia High School League is to “promote education, leadership, sportsmanship, character, and citizenship for students by establishing and maintaining high standards for school activities and competitions.” Through this pilot program, the VHSL will evaluate eSports activities to see if this activity provides another opportunity for students in member schools while upholding the mission of the League.
–Billy Haun, executive director, VHSL