“I open the door, and it looks like a call center in India,” one mom who had a similar experience told me. “They’re all up, their headsets on. Playing.”
It’s gaming, Mooohhhm. Esports, to be exact.
There are important developments in the video game world — the Fortnite Floss Dance is so 2018 — that your teens will use against you. And I’m here to help.
Let’s be clear. The kids who have spent their summer playing on the Twisted Treeline or in the Howling Abyss aren’t just wasting away, quietly gaming alone. This is training, especially if they live in Virginia or eight other states that officially recognize video gaming as a varsity high school sport. (Maryland and the District have yet to see the blue light.)
Yes, you heard me right. I know, feels like a total scam. But this is the real thing. And the fast-evolving world of esports is exploding. Just follow the money of investors like D.C. sports bigwigs Ted Leonsis and Mark Ein. They’re betting big on esports — competitive video gaming.
And high schools are figuring this out.
Virginia became the ninth state to make esports an official part of their athletics departments two weeks ago when it announced a one-year pilot program for all state high schools.
This means gamers can sign up for a team, go to practices, train with a coach and suit up for game days. They compete against other teams throughout the state and — because there’s no stinky bus and cheap hotel rooms required for tournaments — against teams throughout the nation.
And, here’s the key: Just like football, baseball or soccer, they can get scholarships.
In 2016, there were only seven colleges that had esports teams. There are now programs at more than 130 colleges, giving away more than $15 million in esports scholarships, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Yes, there are scholarships from New York University to the University of California at Irvine for playing video games.
“One of our teams won a national tournament, and five or six of them split a $12,000 scholarship,” said Miles Carey, an assistant principal at Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington and head of their esports program.
Another one of their students made his college choice — the University of British Columbia — specifically because of its high-ranked esports team.
This is the future. Time to put away the old notions of what video gaming is — the quarters and the Centipede machine at the Gas ‘N’ Sip or the anti-social misfit surrounded by pizza crusts in a dark room.
This isn’t just a hobby; it’s an industry. And the chances of your kid making a good living in the tech world are far more likely than a fat basketball scholarship or an NHL contract.
When it made its announcement, Virginia said three games — League of Legends, SMITE and Rocket League — will be offered during two seasons of the school year (October to January for the first season, and the second is to be determined in late winter or spring).
Students will have to maintain eligibility — GPA and good behavior — and participation will cost $64 per game title per season. So, it’s accessible.
When it comes to esports on the competitive level, players work together to achieve a game goal. The teamwork and plays can be as orchestrated as a football flea flicker or basketball give-and-go.
“They’re learning cooperation and time management,” Carey said. “They learn about not gaming too much. Just like a football player isn’t going to spend seven hours practicing, they can’t spend seven hours gaming.” (Feel free to print this part out and post it on your refrigerator. Thank you, Miles Carey.)
“And being on a team means being able to take defeat and not blame each other,” he said.
Just like traditional sports, there are private coaches, camps and clinics. There’s even a Game Gym to go work out your Rocket League reaction times in Potomac, Md.
Oh yes, it’s already insane. But it’s also inspiring.
Listen to Carey explain why he brought esports, which has operated as a club at his school for the past two years, to his students.
“I sold it to the higher-ups as a way to engage kids who are uninvolved,” he said, after doing a survey that showed a small group of teens who weren’t in any other sports or clubs. That kind of involvement is often the biggest factor in a student’s social and academic success.
He set up an organizational meeting for an esports club two years ago and expected a dozen kids — at best — to show up.
More than 60 kids packed the room that day. And more than a third of those kids had no other activity in the school. Now, they had found a home.
Plus — the secret that my son learned when he found the after-school gaming club at his D.C. high school — gamers span the social groups. It’s not just nerds.
“Gamers don’t walk around with a big flag, so it’s not easy to find others,” Carey said. So he was delighted when the girls and boys who showed up included geeks and baseball and football players, recent immigrants, and exchange students.
“And for the language learners?” he said. “We saw the kids working to learn English learn so much faster and getting more speaking practice on the teams.”
Carey still isn’t sure how many high schools will join the league this year. So far, his is the only one in Arlington County.
He has heard from a ton of kids who want to do it, but they need to find teachers at their schools to sponsor a team. He’s willing to help.
Sound better than driving to hockey games at 6 a.m. or struggling to survive the smell of old cleats?