Esports’ popularity booms as colleges offer scholarships

MADISON – Dr. Ed Nichols decided to learn about an innovative pursuit for high school students. “Nothing could be more exciting,” Nichols said.

“This is a new area in our school district and across the nation even — Esports teams,” Nichols said in his “Sittin’ With the Supe” podcast. The podcast’s goal is “to enlighten our community on our programs and outstanding (happenings) with our students.”

Nichols discussed Esports with coaches Pam Paquette at James Clemens High School and Aubree White at Bob Jones High School. This modern sport has a growing field of competitors.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association has recognized Esports as a competitive sport for state schools.

Both Paquette and White’s backgrounds segued easily to coach. They have competitive natures and played basketball in high school. White coached basketball for one year at Bob Jones. When asked to coach Esports, White said, “Let’s go.”

Their coaching was intuitive, considering Esports’ competitive and team-based setup. Video games associated with Esports are Rocket League, League Of Legends, Madden, Mario Cart, Super Smash Brothers, Platoon 3 and a few more.

Esports games are individual-based; that is, one player competes against another player. “At the end of the day, points are tallied. The specific games have different leagues. It depends on the number of teams in the state if you have a regional or state league,” Paquette said.

Recently, Super Smash Brothers has grown with enough players to have a state league, White said.

The scoring is based on games. Each game has its (one) champion or winner. “Most school districts in Alabama have at least one team playing one game. Not all schools have as many (game) titles in play as Bob Jones,” White said. Bob Jones has achieved a national ranking.

“Currently, James Clemens has a Mario Cart team. Out of 160 teams, we’re third,” Paquette said. “Games are displayed on Twitch.”

People can watch contests online, Nichols said. “Arenas are even available with (television) screens for spectators to watch Esports games live. The teams can be seated on the stage as they play against each other. Professional broadcasters give play-by-play comments, like a football game.”

Last year, several students earned Esports scholarships. “Almost 100 colleges and universities give Esports scholarships,” Nichols said. “In the SEC, the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama grant Esports scholarships.”

“It’s getting bigger at a lot of colleges. High schools are moving to ‘teams’ in competitive play instead of a ‘club,’” White said.

A student in Esports “builds character, teaches them to be a team player, how to solve problems and how to deal with defeat,” Paquette said.

“For parents, if your child is constantly playing games, have your child come out for Esports. It goes from a pastime to a purpose – they represent their school and the community,” White said.

“Students build collaboration, communication, and think in ‘real time’ to solve a problem,” White said.

“Students will use problem-solving skills and analyzing skills across the spectrum,” Nichols said.

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