Esports Could Become Official High School Sport

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Courtesy / Port San Antonio

This rendering shows the technology arena slated for Port San Antonio.

The University Interscholastic League of Texas, the body that governs high school sports in the state, is exploring the possibility of sanctioning competitive gaming as early as the 2020-21 school year, which means video games could turn from a teenage obsession into a possible scholarship to college.

Related: Local Gaming Community Cheers Port San Antonio’s Esports Arena Plan

Kate Hector, a spokeswoman for UIL, said the entity received a request from a teacher proposing a public hearing on officially sanctioning esports, and at a June 11 meeting, the UIL’s standing committee on policy gave the school athletics governing body the OK to study the proposal.

The UIL’s legislative council, which is made up of superintendents from throughout the state, will meet next in October to discuss the findings. If approved, esports could be added as early as the 2020-21 school year, likely on a pilot basis.

UIL’s consideration of esports comes at a time when the competitive video gaming world is growing in San Antonio and the world over.

As an industry, esports is worth about a billion dollars, according to some estimates. An October 2018 report by Goldman Sachs predicted esports would attract nearly 300 million by 2022, which is in line with the NFL’s current viewership.

And for some, their gaming skills can earn them scholarships to compete in university athletics. In Texas, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, Schreiner University, and Concordia University all boast competitive esports programs.

Texas A&M University at San Antonio expects to begin a university athletics program as early as next spring with esports likely its first foray into official athletic competition, according to earlier reporting.

Port San Antonio, a 1,900-acre manufacturing, aerospace, and technology complex, has discussed building a 130,000-square-foot innovation center to tap into the growing esports world, where economic opportunities will not only be available for talented gamers but also film crews, agents, and media professionals.

Earlier this year, the Port’s board of directors approved a feasibility study that will determine the cost of building the innovation center housing creative space, a STEM museum, and showplace for local technology, in addition to a gaming arena. The feasibility study remains ongoing, and a funding amount for the facility has not been determined.

Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio CEO and president, said he isn’t surprised the UIL is considering adding esports.

“What’s going on with esports, of course, has so many applications to everything going on in business today,” Perschbach said. “It’s nice to see people looking at it as something truly worth spending time on.”

The Port San Antonio gaming arena can become to high school gaming tournaments what Alamo Stadium is to San Antonio ISD, Perschbach said, adding that the facility will serve the broader public seeking to play for entertainment and not just formal contests.

The Port’s esports arena could potentially host UIL competitions if the organization OKs the proposal to sanction it.

Related: Port San Antonio to Study Costs of Building Innovation Center

Roosevelt High School design teacher Paul Fritz supports sanctioning esports at the high school level and sponsors an esports club on campus. More than 50 kids are in the club, and around 30 of them compete regularly in tournaments throughout the city. The club often goes to LFG Cybercafe to play, but the gaming venue in Northwest San Antonio is more than a half-hour drive from the school.

If UIL were to approve esports, the Roosevelt team would be eligible to receive funding from the school as well as organize funding through booster clubs. The esports club currently has no budget and is financed entirely by student-raised funds, Fritz said.

He added first-person shooters such as CounterStrike and Fortnite might be ruled out of the UIL-sanctioned gameplay, especially in an era of rising gun violence on school campuses.

Current participants in school esports club activities do not have to maintain certain grades and often there is no discipline for poor sportsmanship, Fritz said. But as a sanctioned UIL activity, esports players would have to maintain passing grades, and competitors who break the sportsmanship rules would face suspension or removal from the team.

Inclusion in the UIL has the ability to regulate the “free-for-all” that non-sanctioned esports has, at times, devolved into, Fritz said, and potentially give teens a place to socialize and sense of belonging.

“No longer will it be the loner sitting in a dark room with the lights off playing video games for 10 hours a day and not having any social interactions with kids,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to belong to a group.”

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