Two of the students participating in Esports at Truman High School.
BY NIKKI MEYER
Truman High School (THS) is now home to an Esports league, part of a new trend sweeping the country. Twenty students have already signed up and begun practicing.
“We had a PLC (Professional Learning Community meeting on Wednesday afternoons) and one question was How do we get kids interested in doing well in school?” Inspired by the changes happening at the school, and by a recent trip with his son to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, THS teacher Jim Utermarck proposed an unlikely answer: Esports.
“The next day I brought [the idea] up to my first hour class—the 9th graders—and right away a couple of kids who have never been involved in anything were like Let’s do it Mr. U,” Utermarck said. By 3rd hour it seemed the whole high school knew about the idea, and loved it.
Esports involve multiplayer team competitions using video games. Yes, Esports in high school means groups of kids playing games on computers. Organized competitions have long been a part of the gaming community, with participants from all over the country and even the globe being able to compete with one another in the same forum at the same time, thanks to the internet. Fans even pack stadiums to watch games unfold live. Now, the activity is being organized into a league available to high school students. Utermarck sees this as a good thing.
In order for students to participate in Esports, they must meet all of the Minnesota State High School League requirements for eligibility. “I have a student in 7th grade who was floundering. We brought in Esports and he owed me 15 things and he had those things in within a week. [The students] are getting their work done so they can do Esports.” Utermarck stated. “I think the thing that has worked really well is that these aren’t always the kids who are in other sports.”
Utermarck also commented, “When you’re a coach you seem to have a different relationship with kids in school. So now I seem to have a different relationship with some of the kids who would never be out for football or basketball or baseball or golf, but they’re out for Esports. And I think they respect the fact that we’re trying to give them other opportunities.”
The current league at THS is informal. Utermarck said they will likely join the High School Esports League (HSEL) later this year, but first he wants to give the kids a chance to practice and figure out which teams will work well together and playing what games. Fortnite and League of Legends—two games that can be played for free—are the primary focus at this point.
Utermarck commented, “I remember back in the day going Well what are you ever going to do when all you do is sit home and play video games all day?” The world is changing, and now the answer to that question could be that you make upwards of $500,000 a month, like 27-year-old professional Esports player Richard “Ninja” Blevins. Nearly 12 million people follow Blevins online, and close to 60,000 watch each of his game streams live. Even some colleges are now offering large scholarships to gamers.
“The key is that they’re all working together. These games—they have to be six teammates. They learn strategy, they learn how to work together. It’s really cool,” said Utermarck.
While Utermarck owns up to having played Madden back in the 90’s, he is not a gamer today. “I will tell you that 27 years ago when I started teaching I never, ever, ever thought I would be teaching or coaching Esports. But times change.” Right now Utermarck opens the computer lab—or Esports lounge, as it’s been informally renamed by the students—before school, over the lunch hour, and after school, depending on the day. “They have to eat lunch first, though,” Utermarck laughed. “The first day they were there during the lunch hour after like five minutes. Now I don’t open it until 12:45 (15 minutes after lunch has started).”
Down the road Utermarck envisions all-day events and tournaments happening at the school. He also plans to put the students’ fees toward equipment as much as possible. He sees this as an opportunity, and one that he is thankful the administration supports. “It’s been phenomenal. Someone asked me What are you doing it for? It’s to give our kids in Truman as many opportunities as possible. Whatever I can do to give the kids an opportunity, I will.”
Esports at THS is open to all students in grades 7-12 who meet eligibility requirements.
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