ESPORTS: Why some say it prepares students for their futures

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 7:06 AM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Esports is rising in popularity each year and growing faster than ever before throughout high schools. It’s a sport that doesn’t require physical exertion, but still teaches students essential life skills.

Esports was first recognized as a sport by the Nation Federation of State High School Associations in 2018. Since then, nearly 9,000 high schools have started a team.

Esports has grown rapidly not only worldwide and nationally, but even here in Wisconsin, and more specifically in Wausau. Wausau West High School was one of the first high schools to join the Wisconsin High School Esports Association (WIHSEA) five years ago. The association started out with just seven schools competing in one game. Now, the association has nearly 100 schools competing in multiple games, and its president said it’s growing bigger than he’s ever imagined, with it also being a non-profit.

“It’s a means in order for them to pair what they are doing in the classroom in real-world settings,” President of WIHSEA, Mike Dahle said.

The association is made up of leaders from the classrooms who are even gamers themselves. That’s how Dahle even learned about how popular the industry has gotten when one of his students did a presentation on a video game world championship.

“And I was like ‘oh I didn’t realize it had gotten that big.’ So I started doing some random Google searching one day and I was pushing through some video game design curriculum actually and I thought this would pair perfectly with it for an after-school extracurricular,” Dahle explained.

Then he set up a ‘trial run’ on an online national league, which Dahle explained didn’t go so well, but that didn’t stop the passion from burning out in Dahle and his colleagues. “I just, one summer decided let’s see how legit we can build this, so everything’s just grown exponentially since then.”

It was an idea that flourished at Wausau West High School. A video gaming club, that was known as a casual after school hangout club, turned to a competitive esports team. Since then, the team’s adviser said it’s effectively given students an organized way of play.

“What I’ve always said about esports is, students are going to be playing video games regardless of, pretty much anything, so this gives them the opportunity to do so in a safe, organized environment where we monitor behavior and strive to improve and preach sportsmanship, and teamwork and communication, and all these valuable skills kids need,” Wausau West Chemistry teacher and Esports team adviser, Alex Burazin said.

Burazin explained many people don’t realize the similarities of skills that are shown both on a field and on a screen. “It has a lot of translation between traditional sports and e-sports, we’re just competition on a computer as opposed to on a field or on a court.”

“And I think that’s part of the beauty of this, students can play from school. we try to make it so there’s not very much cost to travel because we all know how hard that can be, especially right now,” Dahle explained.

Making it accessible to all those interested in gaining the skills that can even be recognized by colleges. “I have one student last year that got a 60% scholarship to got play at Northwoods University,” Dahle said.

High schools that join the association abide by rules and regulations set by WIHSEA.

Students who are part of the esports team at Wausau West said esports has given them the opportunity to learn skills that go beyond just the controller. This is what some of them said:

“I think a lot of people are doubtful at first, ‘they’re like what is e-sports, what is it, are you just playing games,’” Freshman, Trynn Verstegen explained.

“And the short answer is yes--kind of, but it takes a lot more effort,” Senior, Mia Schuler added to the conversation.

“But, I think as you explain it more, people start to understand how much effort it takes to really understand your team,” Verstegen said.

Sophomore Kenneth Sayawong said, “I’m learning a lot of gaming and a lot of teamwork.”

Freshman Tyler Simpson added, saying, “there’s a lot of teamwork that goes into training the other parts of your team.”

Stegen explained that process as “you learn a lot about them individually and how to help them. Some people need a little more encouragement, while others may need a little more compassion.”

“You can compliment somebody on a good thing they’re working on and it will help them improve as a person and whatever their hobbies are in,” Simpson noted.

“It takes so much time really, like talking to them, not just in [the] game but outside of school and we visit restaurants sometimes and it just takes a lot of bonding,” Verstegen said.

“Working together with new people, if we learn that skill now it’s going to help us later,” Junior Connor Butler said.

“Because people have to come up and be leaders when they want to get something done,” Schueler explained.

“Leadership and collaboration are way bigger in this thing than you’d think. It takes so much understanding and patience to work with a lot of people at once,” Verstegen added.

“You can kind of compare it to a sport where you have a team, you got to practice, and put a lot of work effort into it,” Schueler said.

Finally, Verstegen noted that esports is “...more than just video games, it’s learning to work with people.”

Burazin said almost every night after school, the team is meeting, having a good time, learning from one another and enjoying what makes them happy.

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