By Linda Dilman
Video games have moved from pure entertainment to the realm of sanctioned sports with the development of competitive e-sports teams at the school level and Canal Winchester is jumping on the gaming bandwagon.
When asked what makes electronic gaming a sport, Canal Winchester High School Athletic Director Pat Durbin felt that the game was competitive because not only can a player compete against the game, but he also compete online.
“Before esports started, it was already competitive,” Durbin said. “Now they also compete as a team. It mostly became popular at the high school level after its popularity at the college level. Maybe a student doesn’t want to play a sport (field sports, etc.) or has physical limitations. Esports gives them a chance to get involved.
Currently, E-sports at Canal Winchester is considered a club organization. However, Durbin expects it to eventually be recognized as a sport with the ability for players to earn a letter.
Ben Wyatt is the head coach of the high school esports team, which just completed its second season winning the state title for the game League of Legends, which Wyatt says is the esports game number one in the world.
“League of Legends, aside from the Super Bowl, is the most-watched sporting event in the world,” Wyatt said. “We had no expectations for the state, just come in and play the best we can and they (the team members) beat Hilliard Davidson and then St. Johns Jesuit and we we were finally able to beat Oberlin for the state title.”
The state meet in December was a surreal, unexpected and mind-blowing experience for Wyatt. The team lost three games in their opening round to Hilliard in a six-best streak before rallying and winning a decisive seventh game.
Canal Winchester teams hold weekly practice sessions, which are usually split between game titles. There are around 35 personal computers in the lab with enough space for players to spread out and focus on individual games.
Wyatt talks to his captains beforehand, then hands them the practice, which consists of in-house and ranged scrums with other schools. The coach said that as an educator it is important to him that his players have the opportunity and opportunity to direct and support each other.
The players, who must maintain their academic eligibility, frequently watch video footage of past competitive matches and also criticize each other.
“We have a really good lab in high school,” said the coach who got involved in esports in late 2020 early 2021. “In our freshman year, we tried to figure out what was the best way to do We had a plan in the 2019-20 school year to roll out an esports program, but those plans were initially put on hold due to the pandemic and accompanying restrictions.
According to Wyatt, the team started with 20 college students in 2021 and now includes nearly 50 teenage players who play four different games. The coach said that esports has become more and more important over the years and now students can apply for scholarships.
“We initially saw $500 to $1,300 in scholarships,” Wyatt said. “Now we see partial to full scholarships in just two years of advancement. Esports will only continue to grow. We even talked about trying to bring it to middle school and elementary level and even recess.
Wyatt said the Ohio High School Athletic Association is now involved in esports and is working to officially recognize it as a sanctioned sport. The district club is now part of a state-run league with over 300 participating schools with spring and fall seasons.
“I’ve always been interested in games and competition,” said Wyatt, who has played video games on various platforms, including Nintendo’s original entertainment system, and felt that his knowledge and skill gaming experience made him an ideal candidate to lead the emergence of esports. program. “Add that to the fact that I love my students and strive to see them succeed and it has become a perfect match. I am also an alumnus of the district and spent 12 years as an Indian C.W.
Looking back on his time as a student, Wyatt said a program like E-sports would have been a perfect way for him to apply his passion for gaming in a way that could potentially provide him with a future as a as a professional gamer, as a scholarship E-athlete at the college level or as a creator of video games.
“I wanted to be the person who would make that dream come true for our students,” Wyatt said.
Future plans include expanding opportunities for students outside of gaming in esports such as streaming, commentary, and video production.
“There are so many things that go into making esports successful and I would love to provide media production opportunities for students who are interested in gaming but may not be comfortable or interested in playing competitively. “Wyatt said. “We have great things going on and I can’t wait to see where we will be in five years.”