Seeing the phenomenal, explosive growth in school participation or, at the very least, interest in student esports teams in the past year or so, I wanted to share our experiences as we try to get going in our inaugural year here in Seguin. I am not an expert by any measure, but I hope that makes what I learn even more valuable to other novices out there. I’ll add more posts as boxes are checked or achievements…well…achieved.
Step 1: Genesis
After doing my research and, particularly, speaking to an ed tech friend from north Texas, Kyle Berger, I became convinced that our Matador students would benefit from participation in esports. Kyle, CTO for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, shared his experiences starting a program and watching it explode in popularity. He also shared many, pany positive impacts on students. Among the benefits shared by Kyle and found in my researcher were:
- Inclusivity. Esports offers the opportunity for students not traditionally participating in groups or larger school events, clubs, sports, etc. to be a part of a team.
- Accountability. Our team members will be held accountable for attendance, grades, and discipline, just like students in other activities.
- Opportunity. An increasing number of colleges are forming esports teams and paying up for top players. As colleges routinely demand $30-$70k from students each year, every bit of assistance helps.
- Responsibility. Students will benefit from time spent practicing and collaborating ahead of matches. Most of this preparation, especially in the absence of an experienced coach/sponsor initially, will be the responsibility of the students themselves.
I approached our high school principal, superintendent, and other leadership about the idea. Somewhat to my surprise, there were only enthusiastic responses, and all saw the idea as providing a unique and exciting opportunity for our students.
Step 2: Getting the Ball Rolling
Once approval was so quickly secured, I set about determining some of the basic things we would need, such as:
- Budget. This was something of a shot in the dark, particularly as inexperienced as we were. I did some shopping around for leagues, checked prices, looked at hardware investments required, team supplies, such as jerseys, etc. We limited participation for our initial team to 20 kids, just for ease of management. This also kept the cost lower to begin. In total, I estimated no more than $2000-$2500 for our first year. While some schools are building gaming rooms, with new, gaming PCs, gaming chairs, high-end headsets, etc., I wanted to equip our kids without going overboard at the start.
- Coach/Sponsors. I got lucky here. To my surprise, a young technology teacher at our high school had started a gaming club the year before. In honesty, this was really just a time and place (his classroom after school on Fridays) for students who were into gaming to gather and play. He had a good core group of kids who were VERY jazzed at the idea of an actual team. He agreed instantly to be the coach, and I would offer help throughout the year.
- Leagues. In Texas we do not yet have an official, state-sponsored esports league. I decided that our options were to either host our own, local events, probably inviting other area schools, or to join an existing league, such as HSEL or PlayVS. After comparing costs, available games, infrastructure requirements, etc., I opted for HSEL for our first season. This was based on the wider range of games for students to choose and the overall low cost and fairly simple technology requirements. Also, everything is online–no travel, and scheduling is up to matched teams, which is super convenient.
- Hardware/Software. So, we are really learning more as we go along here. For now, we are using student devices (Nintendo Switch) and our existing iMacs. We use our wired network for online games, such as CS GO and Minecraft, and our wireless network for games that utilize student devices. I did order some gaming headsets and gaming mice. Because this is a pilot, they weren’t high-end models, but our players seemed to really like them.
Step 3: Season 1
Our selected league, High School ESports League, has 3 seasons during the school year. It took awhile to get things set, so I opted to wait until the Winter Open to get our teams onboard. The process was fairly simple:
- Register our team on the site and add our players. This can be done for no charge, and it immediately puts you on the league’s email list, which is a great way to stay on top of upcoming seasons and deadlines.
- Determine how many players would be participating. Request an invoice from the league for that many seats (Note: players can play as many games as they want for just the price of 1 spot on the team). We have 15 players for our first season.
- Once the quote/invoice was received, I submitted the request for a district PO. The turnaround here is fast, so this was in hand in a few days. I sent this off to the league, who added the requested number of seats.
- Create game rosters. For some events, such as CS GO, rosters include 5 players. Others, such as Minecraft or Smash Bros are individual games, but all players are added to a single roster for the game.
- When the season begins (January 17, in this case), HSEL sets up brackets and matchups. A dashboard on the site lists all of your players’/teams’ matchups for week 1.
- Within 48 hours, teams or coaches use the dashboard to schedule their matches.
- Teams or individuals contest their matches and record their results on the dashboards.
- The process resets and repeats every Friday throughout the season.
There have already been some useful lessons learned:
- For big teams, I can see scheduling being a real chore. If possible, players should do as much of their own scheduling as possible.
- Devices such as the Nintendo Switch may or may not play well with every network. Leave plenty of time to work out any kinks. For example, ours took about 15 minutes to join our guest network and reach the internet, which made us miss a couple of matches.
- The variety of match days/times is a little weird, as you don’t always have a room full of cheering/groaning team members. It would be cool if our match schedules synched up a little more.
Step 4: Next Level
There are a few things I will be looking at soon for our teams:
- More formal, including getting official jerseys made, practice schedules, grade and attendance check procedures, etc.
- Purchase consoles and monitors to allow console-only games to be played.
- Hold occasional LAN party gaming events to just allow the players to hang out and enjoy something they already are passionate about.
- Continue to explore league options. If we stay in HSEL, we will likely purchase an unlimited participation license for next year, which will include all seasons and unlimited player spots.
There are probably MANY things I am leaving off, but I hope this helps get the wheels turning. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, etc., please leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading!