Yes, it’s pretty satisfying to knock a soccer ball into the opposing team’s goal with your car in Rocket League, a popular video game.
But today’s video games have embarked on a new and ambitious quest, and esports (electronic sports) – one of the fastest-growing high school and college sports – is burning its way into screens across Pennsylvania.
And Trinity Area High School, one of the first schools in the region to incorporate esports into its curriculum, is among the leaders of that trend.
Trinity also fields an esports team that competes in PlayVS, a scholastic esports league.
“Trinity Area is thrilled to be one of the first school districts in the region to build an esports program,” said Superintendent Dr. Michael Lucas. “I am incredibly grateful for our staff members’ assistance in helping us to prepare to launch the program this school year. Our esports coaches, teachers, and administrators work diligently to design and facilitate courses with real-world applications – the kind of courses students want to take.”
During each semester of the 2021-22 school year, Trinity Area is piloting Introduction to Esports courses to familiarize students with industry game developers’ roles, responsibilities and influences.
More than 90% of teens are active video gamers, and the popularity of video games has launched an entire industry of gamers, spectators and competition. In 2019, an estimated 453.8 million viewers watched esports matches around the country, hauling in a record $1.1 billion in revenue from sponsorships and advertising.
Trinity and other high schools see the opportunity that esports offer for students interested in attending college. The National Association of Collegiate Esports reports more than 170 colleges and universities around the country now have varsity programs, and they’re pursuing the best high school gamers with more than $16 million in scholarships each year.
While some students will wind up as professional esports players, the games are also introducing students to a variety of professional opportunities they can explore once in college, including esports marketing careers, business management, game development, team coaching and more.
Trinity High School has installed a state-of-the-art, futuristic classroom equipped with the latest computers, gaming software, lighting, cameras, video game cards, and broadcasting software to provide students with an authentic, hands-on learning and playing experience.
About 30 student-athletes participate on Trinity’s esports team, where the compete against other teams in Pennsylvania and other states in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, League of Legends, and Rocket League.
And that offers several benefits for students involved in esports – which is open to both boys and girls – for students to find their “thing.”
Trinity High School senior Sean Fagan-Dyer leaped at the chance to join the Hillers e-gamers team.
“I joined because I like video games. It looked fun for me,” said Fagan-Dyer. “I’ve been interested in competing in something like this, so I joined. I also made a couple of new friends, and honestly, I’m hoping to get better at the games and hopefully bring home a couple of wins for Trinity.”
Daniel Scarmazzi, coach of the Hillers esports team, said the digital transformation of sports provides a chance for students who might not get involved in other sports teams to compete on a team.
And esports, like other sports and extracurricular activities, offer other benefits to Trinity students.
Students who participate in extracurriculars often experience higher attendance, improved math and reading scores, increased focus and higher self-esteem.
“It’s great to finally harness video games for a positive use, instead of making it something that we always assume is negative,” said Scarmazzi. “I really like the positive aspects of it, the careers that are available, that sort of thing. It’s really giving kids a place and an opportunity to be involved and succeed. That’s my favorite part.”
But, Scarmazzi notes, don’t overlook the fact that esports are competitive and intense.
“Competitively, you’re looking to constantly improve the way you would when you’re playing a sport,” said Scarmazzi. “I would compare it to a sport. If you shoot a basketball leisurely, you’re not really getting better at it, but you’re enjoying it, right? But when you’re playing for a team, you’re working on drills and you’re working to achieve something together. That’s kind of the way esports works, in the sense of video games.”
Sophomore Luke Webb shared Scarmazzi’s sentiments.
“It’s really nice to have a bunch of other like-minded people who play the same video games to spend time with. It’s a nice community,” he said.