Esports earning more credibility


Ryan Devine, Staff Writer

This past April, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) held a meeting to discuss the future of an activity that is rising in popularity: Competitive video gaming.

In a couple of years, students around Illinois will be able to officially represent their school in what is formally known as esports.

“Esports has tremendous participation among high school students that only continues to grow, so it’s important that we continue to look at ways to connect with high school students and their interests,” said IHSA Board President Tim McConnell in a statement.

So, what is esports? There is no doubt in the existance of a generational divide on the matter. Many of the previous generations, including the parents of esport athletes, are just hearing about this new and confusing term.

Esports is essentially a portmanteau of electronic and sports. In the same way the term sports describes hundreds of competitions, esports describes many popular and competitive video games. At the high school level, it will foster the same experiences as other sports. It appeals to the competitive nature of kids, bringing the comradery, fun, and teamwork you can find anywhere else.

Although esports is currently at a level of popularity like never before, it dates back to the 2000’s when it was most popular in South Korea. Since then, just about every region of the world has countries competing in global tournaments. Organizations in Japan have even talked about incorporating esports into the 2020 Olympic Games.

In America, big names have invested in esports. Particularly in the NBA, world-class athletes like Rick Fox, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and many more have invested or taken up ownership positions in esports. Large companies like Guico, Jersey Mike’s, and Mastercard have sponsored teams and tournaments.

While the discussion of whether or not it should be regarded as a traditional sport was hot a few years ago, I think an agreement has been reached. It has now transcended to become its own thing. There is no denying the widespread popularity of esports, even among traditional athletes.

In fact, more than half of the varsity esports team at LFHS is also involved in other school sports. This sometimes makes for difficult scheduling as the seasons overlapped, but it shows there is a middleground. The rise of esports is not a threat to traditional sports. I would argue that is in fact the opposite, as players participating in League of Legends can also be found on the traditional varsity fields.

Esports also provides a way for students not interested in athletics to represent their school.

This last school year saw the introduction of the first five states, Georgia, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, to an official National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) esports league. Students competed like any other sport against surrounding schools, without worry about travel time or inclement weather.

Here in Illinois, this has already been happening, just under a different name. Students this year competed in a similar fashion under the Illinois High School Esports Association (IHSEA). This organization was mainly run by Todd McFarlin out of Taft High School in Chicago. McFarlin is also on the new IHSA Esports Advisory Committee.

This is especially exciting for LFHS, as this was the first year the school has competed in esports. Successful, the varsity team secured 3rd in Illinois at last weekend’s replicate of a state tournament. The team now has their sights set on a tournament taking place in Michigan, where they are seeded highly. So, if you are a fan of LFHS and its students having an enjoyable high school experience, you should be welcome this new development.

“We are excited any time we can entertain the possibility of offering Illinois high school students more opportunities to represent their schools in competition,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “We know that students benefit in the short and long-term when they are involved in a high school sport or activity.

The IHSA Esports committee has set May 13, 2019, as the date for their next meeting. The next meeting will focus mainly on timing for a possible IHSA Esports state series.

Students, teachers, and IHSA directors are all in agreement. Esports is coming to the high school level. Considering the appeal millions have to the games and professional esports, it only makes sense. Even at the college level, esports are hard to avoid. Through the IHSEA, college recruiters have reached out with offers of scholarships while boasting their new esports facilities.