Esports: A game-changer for Elkhart students
In a computer lab along the science hall at Elkhart Central High School, a group of 20 students regularly gather for hours after school and on weekends. Under the word “Arkadia” – the name they’ve chosen for their lab – the students equip themselves with headsets and keyboards to play one of the fastest growing sports in the world: esports.
Esports is the broad term used to describe competitive gaming, which includes playing, hosting, coaching, or watching tournaments and leagues centered around video games. Elkhart is in its first full season of fielding an esports team, Elkhart Elite, under the guidance of Coach Steven Robinson.
“I started Elkhart Elite because I saw the upward trend in the world of gaming, and how it is shaping a lot of brilliant minds,” said Robinson. “We started gaining traction in March of last year, as far as putting a plan in place and getting in front of the right people.”
Across the country, esports continues to gain traction.
- As of June 2018, over 70 four-year colleges offered esports programs, including 14 colleges in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
- Earlier this month, Western Michigan University opened an esports arena to launch their college esports program, and The Ohio State University is currently building an esports arena.
- The Michigan High School Athletic Association is considering adding esports as a varsity sport.
- Last month, Fortnite streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, became the first professional esports player featured on the cover of ESPN Magazine.
- Last year, over 106 million viewers watched the League of Legends World Championship. By comparison, the NBA Finals had 24 million viewers.
- The global audience of esports is estimated at 380 million people, according to research agency Newzoo.
- Per Forbes magazine, esports’ revenue jumped from $493 million in 2016 to $655 million in 2017, and total revenue could exceed $900 million in 2018. It is estimated that revenues will grow to $1.6 billion in 2020. Esports revenue is based on sponsorships, advertising, media rights, game publisher fees, tickets, and merchandise.
“Not only is gaming a relevant thing today, it’s a business atmosphere where our students are learning professional skills like the creation of visuals, writing code, and creating a realm for the gaming community,” said Robinson. “Our program has a strong emphasis on communication, dependability, and respect.” According to the High School Esports League (HSEL), there are many reasons why a high school would consider building an esports program, including team building, scholarship opportunities, pathways to college, and even professional job opportunities.
Thanks to an anonymous donation to the program, students have the equipment they need to compete. “As for the donor, a stipulation was to stay unknown,” said Robinson, “But we truly appreciate what they’ve done and keep them in the loop on all progress weekly.” This donation provided an opportunity for the students on the team to build their own gaming computers, known in the gaming arena as rigs.
“Building the rigs was a big positive experience for them, since a number of them had never seen the inside of a computer,” said Robinson. “It gave them a sense of pride and knowledge, to see and understand how every component comes together.”
The team currently competes in three titles – League of Legends, Rocket League, and Overwatch – out of the 12 available titles determined by HSEL administration. The process of selection from the available titles is based on student interest, level of success within the program, and which titles offer post-secondary scholarships. It is Robinson’s hope that more titles will be added as the awareness grows between Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial, and that when the schools merge, the team will grow and expand to compete in seven of the available titles.
For Robinson, the program is much more than simply playing video games. “A majority of our players are introverts and not overly excited about branching out to meet new people. This is their outlet. Every day, these 20 students gather here, and they are excited and comfortable to be here, and with each another. These kids are in a place they love – a place they helped build – and they know it’s all for them.”
Walking into Arkadia during practice, an outsider might expect a quiet, calm atmosphere. The truth is – esports is anything but calm or quiet. Students are engaged, laughing, talking, excited to be part of something that is bigger than a computer game. Esports is as much a social game as it is a computer game. It is a place where students feel welcome.
“I like that I can be with other people who share my interests,” said Killian Hunt, Elkhart Central freshman. “I’ve been playing video games since I was nine, and have been playing Overwatch since before it launched as an open beta. Being a part of the esports team has taught me how to communicate better and more than I otherwise would.” Hunt would like to work in the computer tech field someday.
The Elkhart Elite team is open to students at Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial, and competes as part of the HSEL.
The team competes online against other schools around the country. In November, they will travel to Adrian, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois for tournaments. If you’d like to follow along with the Elkhart Elite esports team, they can be found on Twitter https://twitter.com/EHE_esports and on their Twitch affiliated channel at https://www.twitch.tv/ehelite. For additional information about the High School Esports League, please visit: https://www.highschoolesportsleague.com/.