Four School Districts in Oakland County Launching Varsity eSports Programs
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 21, 2019)
Birmingham, Ferndale, Lake Orion, MI – With advances in technology come changes in how humans interact. The world of teenagers is certainly no exception, and a new program gives young people an opportunity to take technology to a new level, by earning their a varsity letter in eSports.
Birmingham’s Seaholm High School, University of Detroit Jesuit, as well as high schools in Ferndale, and Lake Orion are part of the new league. Note: Oakland County Times originally reported that Holly was among the districts, and has since learned that they are not. This story has been corrected to remove them from the list of participants.
Bill Good, Communications Director for Ferndale Schools, is excited about the new program. “It is really unique in that it is a brand new endeavor! How cool is it to be a part of the beginning of a new organized high school sport,” he said.
The program works like other school sports, with a coach that meets with students for practice and competitions. The league is essentially starting from scratch, with the involved districts working together to come up with a neutral location for the students to meet and compete. One possibility, for example, would be Game Time Detroit, located in Auburn Hills.
“Ferndale and other districts are currently working through the logistics of how to make that happen,” Good said. “This will be a computer/console based league it will not be virtual or online. So all practices and games will be played with the participants in the same arena/room.”
The scheduling will also depend on how many districts join in. The time commitment will be similar to other school sports.
Good said other districts are still on the fence about joining, but he anticipates that it will catch on. There are currently three different games under consideration for competition: Super Smash Brothers, League of Legends, and Rocket League. Depending on the interest from the various districts there will be either one game selected or separate leagues for all three.
eSports is the fastest growing high school and university sport in the nation, and that popularity also makes it prime for an influx of sponsorship and scholarship money. An article in Forbes touts a 480% increase in college scholarships. An online search shows massive eSports matches with fans packing in to cheer on the teams of gamers.
“What caught our eye in Ferndale Schools is the amount of college scholarships that are now available to eSports athletes,” Good said. “The other big focus for us with eSports is it allows some of our students who don’t participate in traditional sports the opportunity to represent their school. As a district that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, the possibility to create a new team that allows non -traditional athletes to compete and represent their school is something we simply couldn’t pass up.”
Good also noted that it’s also one of the rare sports that is co-ed. (Golf is the other offered through Ferndale Schools.) It also takes teens who might be playing video games at home in a solitary environment and helps them be part of something bigger. “Having a team where you work together to improve really changes the dynamic that many student gamers have experienced.”
There are also skills that students learn too, such as teamwork, strategy, setting goals, paying attention to detail, discipline, and reflexes. Earlier this year CASA student Jaylen Johnson of Oak Park High School used his senior class project to demonstrate the potential benefit of gaming in improving reaction time.
“People always think video games don’t do anything,” Johnson said. “They rot your brain. They’re all about violence. With this stereotype out there, I wanted to do research of who can benefit from video games.” His idea was that playing video games could improve one’s reaction time for sports. “Or there may be an accident and they many need to react quick” he said. Other applications of video games helping are in hospitals when learning coordination is a part of recovery, and in first responder trainings. Like many young people, Johnson hopes to work in technology, ideally with a focus on gaming. His project tested students reflexes and did find a correlation between gaming practice and reaction time.
While the eSports program comes too late for Johnson at the high school level, it could inspire this year’s students to focus on technology as well.
Ferndale is looking to hire a coach for the eSports program if they have enough student interest. If anyone is interested in coaching they can contact Athletic Director Shaun Butler at 248-586-8740 or by email at email@example.com.
Ferndale Schools families (which include Ferndale, Oak Park, Royal Oak Township, and Pleasant Ridge) were sent an announcement and invited to fill out a survey if interested that includes their choices of games. Students at Ferndale High School and University High School are invited to join.
Those interested in joining eSports can reach out to the administration of their local districts.