The rise of the esports widens opportunities for students throughout the nation
April 30, 2022 by Stos Zafiropoulos, Arizona State University
Stos Zafiropoulos is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Desert Heights High School for AZpreps365.com.
The advancement of video games over time has led to the development of competitive esports, otherwise known as electronic sports, a multiplayer video game competition or tournament played in front of spectators. The typical esports tournament consists of professional gamers, although tournaments now range from the professional to the high school level.
Schools across America are now forming their own esports teams. According to the National Education Association, “Since 2018, when the National Federation of State High School Associations first recognized esports as an official sport, more than 8,600 high schools have started video-gaming teams.”
In Arizona, Desert Heights Preparatory Academy formed its first esports team in 2021. The team competes by playing the game League of Legends during two seasons each school year, one in the fall and one in the spring. Matches are played against other high schools through the online platform called PlayVS (Versus). This platform allows the students to compete against each other without having to be together in real life.
Courtney Ruttan, a Spanish and literature teacher at Desert Heights, is the team’s coach.
“This is my first year (coaching). This is actually the first year we have this program,” Ruttan said. “We got a grant for the equipment and then we kind of just set everything up through the AIA.”
The Arizona Interscholastic Association now has over 70 high school esports teams, increasing from just 49 last year.
“It is important that we get out in front of this,” AIA Sports Information Coordinator Seth Polansky said. “There are many eeports companies looking to get into this space, and by bringing it under the AIA umbrella we can best provide the opportunity for our students to compete for a state championship, while working with the partners that are best suited to provide the platform that best fits our mission and vision.”
Joining a team can be a great way for students to socialize and compete. Esports gives students another way to get involved.
In information disclosed by Polansky, “Our focus at the AIA is to create opportunity for all our member school students to participate in athletics and activities.With the continued growth of eSports nationwide, we wanted to create a structured format in which high school students could participate and compete for a state high school championship.”
Being part of a team can help students open up and find what they love to do. Desert Heights esports player Jet Clark realized the positive effects joining the team had on him.
“I’ve noticed in my life after this discovery, I have done a lot more things that I wouldn’t do normally in my life and it has really benefited me,” Clark said. “At first, I was thinking about joining the basketball team, but then I got an injury and my mom kind of convinced me to join a club. I tried out and I’ve pretty much loved it since.”
“After chatting with my team, I think I can say confidently that the big takeaway... is that after a couple of years of being stuck inside, it's nice for them to be able to have an outlet to socialize that doesn't have to do with the academic day that can still be structured and safe but also fun,” Ruttan said.
The Desert Heights Coyotes grew in size and diversity throughout the year.
“We started the year with barely enough kids to make a single team and now we have more than doubled,” Ruttan said. “We have a really diverse bunch, and it's good for them to interact and branch out from their pre-established social groups and try something new.”
The Coyotes team is co-ed and consists of 12 players, four girls and eight boys.
“Some boys just say that gaming is for boys and only boys, " Savannah Scott said. "But I think it’s pretty cool that both boys and girls can play this because it’s really fun.”
“A lot of people, they were all really kind to me when I first joined,” Chloe Flores said. “If you are just first joining something and you are the only different gender there, don’t be afraid. Most people are really kind about it.”
Esports has provided students of all backgrounds an opportunity to make friends, compete and have fun.
“I honestly just get to enjoy hanging out with people I don’t usually see throughout the day," D Gilles said. "It’s just kind of nice to get along with people who like the same things I do.”
The AIA is promoting esports to other member schools to give them the same opportunity Desert Heights students enjoyed this year.