HUNTINGTON — T he world of esports may soon be coming to high schools statewide as the West Virginia Career and Technical Education office has announced the launch of an esports pilot program, which could include up to 16 schools from around the Mountain State.
Esports — or competitive video gaming — has exploded in popularity over the past five years. In fact, the World Championship of League of Legends drew in more viewers worldwide than the NBA finals, the Super Bowl or the FIFA World Cup. Professional players make millions a year playing. League of Legends is a 5-on-5, team-based game that emphasizes strategy and cooperation and will be the focus of the West Virginia Department of Education pilot program.
Spring Valley High School held an informational meeting to gauge student interest and work toward forming a team. CTE Administrator and de-facto esports coach Will Totten said about 15 students expressed serious interest in participating.
"What I personally love about esports is that it gives the opportunity for students that typically may not get involved in traditional athletics to get involved with the school in a team-based atmosphere," Totten said.
"These students will still get many of the benefits of joining a traditional athletic team such as being dependable, displaying sportsmanship, taking feedback, playing a position and fulfilling a role as well as slightly more esports-specific benefits of problem solving, critical/creative thinking, and strong communication between team members."
SVHS, the Cabell County Career and Technology Center, and the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind have each agreed to participate in the pilot program.
The WVDE CTE office is looking for at least 16 schools to participate for the coming year, and is allowing more than one team per school to participate.
This year, esports will be classified as a school club. After the pilot year, it is hoped that each high school and career and technology center in the state will field a team in a WVSSAC-sanctioned regular season and playoffs as soon as the year 2022.
Regular season games will begin on March 4 and continue through April 24. A postseason tournament will follow.
Esport athletes would be held to the same standard of conduct as any other high school athlete and would need to meet the standards outlined in the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission in order to be eligible to represent any school in an interscholastic contest. Each team would hold practices.
Though they are not included in the pilot program as of now, the Calhoun Gilmer Career Center, Lincoln County, Lewis County and Marietta (Ohio) high schools are among the existing programs but are the only four to have an existing partnership with the High School Esports League.
That league is a national organization that works through the High School Esports Partnership Program and yields benefits for partnering schools including but not limited to premium tournaments, sponsored LAN parties, Twitch.tv broadcasting incentives and more.
Marietta most recently launched its club in late January 2019 and it reportedly has already grown to be the largest non-athletic organization on campus with more than 50 members.
West Virginia Wesleyan College is offering the state's first varsity esports program, joining about 70 other collegiate organizations across the country.