Since 2017, the Wisconsin High School Esports Association has been experiencing exponential growth in student and advisor participation, school connections, and scholarship opportunities. Esports is a platform for competitive video games that creates meaningful networks between students and their schools and communities while promoting positive interaction with adults through play.
The Wisconsin High School Esports Association began with Mike Dahle’s trip to Robert Morris University in Chicago for the 2017 High School Esports Invitational. Dahle, a former high school teacher who is now president of the association, connected with several schools at the competition and started the organization with seven schools. Only four semesters later, that number has more than quadrupled, with no expectations of stopping.
Dahle appreciates that the world of Esports is student-driven. “It provides an opportunity for them to showcase who they are and what their abilities are,” he said. “Seeing students come out of their shells--their teams can become very close friendships. They connect with each other and have a place to belong.” He noted that many students are not involved in other extracurriculars in schools and would love to see every school hosting an Esports team. “The cost is actually really low to get involved. Most of the time, a school has a computer lab already. League of Legends is a free game. Others are very cheap subscriptions. Anybody can play!”
Depending on technology access and scheduling, Esports teams can participate in other community areas. Some schools participate in library spaces, while districts like Racine Unified created a public-private partnership with the gaming space in their community called Not Your Parents Basement Gaming Lounge.
James O'Hagan, Director of Virtual Learning for the Racine Unified School District, said, “The kids are there five days a week. Kids from other schools come to cheer them on and there are no problems. Just kids supporting other kids. Not your Parents Basement has done a great job. Kids are coaching other kids--coaches are learning from the kids too.”
A common belief in the Esports world is that when done right, gaming can be a pro-social, pro-mental health activity that connects students to their schools. “We don’t just do games,” O’Hagan said. “This is built around purposeful practice, growth mindset, trying to help students develop a healthier lifestyle. We know pro gamers get sleep and eat well.”
Another common belief is that students participating in Esports are developing their scholarly pursuits. In his context, O’Hagan pointed to the growing number of scholarship opportunities available for students in the gaming world and the fact that the students he interacts with have aspirations for many things after high school. “Our scholar gamers want to be data analysts, tech support, event managers, social media managers, shout casters” (online video game commentators).
Dahle echoes that sentiment. “Everybody in the state is looking for STEM initiative. These kids are the ones who are going to be those people. These are your students. Esports is a great showcase to get them out and show what they can do.”
For more information about Esports, visit the Wisconsin High School Esports Association website.