ESports Is More Than Just Gaming

by Nathan Ritter

Video games aren’t just games anymore and while they are often entertainment, they represent a growing industry and educational opportunity for young players.

Esports is the term for video game tournaments where students can play on professional teams just like traditional sports. EPIC Charter Schools signed on to an Esports league this school year through Mastery Coding.

Rich Conti, who goes by the name Kilroy in the gamer world, said he saw the potential for gaming to grow early on.

“I created the first [Overwatch game] team at my college and we got pretty good,” Conti said.  I went to school for game development. I started working at Mastery Coding teaching students how to code by making games. I recognized that more students could actually be educated through their passion for esports and orbitals as a pathway to future careers. I brought my idea for Pathway Esports to the CEO Alan Sitomer and he thought it was a great idea!”

The EPIC team started out with an orientation call which included more than 500 students. The group was broken into two groups from there depending on game preference between Fortnite and Overwatch.

Fortnite is a survival game where 100 players fight against each other.

Overwatch allows teams of six to compete against each other. The game objective is to either push the payload or capture a specific point in the game.

A short clip of an EPIC team playing Overwatch as part of their esports training (Nathan Ritter)

There were more Fortnite players than Overwatch players in this first EPIC group. The Overwatch group was eventually broken up into two cohorts of about 70 students each.

Once in a cohort teams are formed.  The teams practiced once every week for two hours. 

Video game safety is important for both physical and mental health. While some video games are criticized for violent scenes, Conti said the research proves they don’t cause someone to be violent.

“I don’t believe gaming to be linked to violence in healthy and age-appropriate individuals any more than other media might,” Conti said. “Gaming, much like Rock music before it, has been the scapegoat for many medias to target because of incidents with unhealthy individuals.”

Conti stresses safety for players. That safety includes taking gaming breaks and limiting game play.

If you play for long periods of time without taking a break you go into an autopilot state, which at that point you are not learning anymore. You can get serious injuries like carpal tunnel and shoulder or arm injuries. They also recommend stretching your arms and wrist before playing a game.

“I do believe video game addiction is very real and is something everybody (students and parents) should keep in mind,” Conti said. “Games are made to be fun, and many are designed to be addicting. That is why they become so popular and people enjoy them. Never let gaming get in the way of living your everyday life, taking care of yourself and family, and succeeding in schooling.”

Players also learn gamer etiquette and sportsmanship. This includes teaching players not to be toxic to one another. You also learn gamer lingo and how to start and end games. For example typing “glhf” [good luck have fun] before a game and saying “gg” [good game] after the game.

Gamers train just like regular sports teams and watch a replay of their work. In gaming that’s called a VOD review. During the review the coach provides pointers and suggestions for improvement. 

Coaches like Andrew, who goes by ADS in the games he plays, also remind players about teamwork because in Overwatch, “you can’t 1v6.”

“I like coaching because it lets me focus on the stuff that I find fun in Overwatch without actually having to worry about my own fundamentals and mechanics,” Andrew said. “I also get to see the fruits of my labor in a real way when I see how well the players that I have been coaching improve.”

Some of the coaches are retired professional gamers. Andre Ramirez, who plays under the name JAWS, left professional gaming in 2017 and immediately went into coaching.

“Even though I didn’t want to play anymore I still had passion and an understanding of how the game works,” Andre said.

The end goal is to make it to the final tournament. This is where the cohorts battle it out to get to the top three. But if you lose twice you are out. 

There are ten teams in the finals which adds up to 17 games. Just making it to the finals wins you a customized gaming mouse pad with your name or your team name on it. The second place team gets the mouse pad plus an esports voucher for an Overwatch camp. The tournament winners get a set of headphones, an Esports voucher and the mouse pad.

Esports isn’t just about the game. Students also learn media, operations, broadcasting, analysis and coding.  Each step prepares student gamers for a college or career option. It proves learning doesn’t have to be boring.

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