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Salem students show interest in eSports

SALEM — Salem High School students who play video games may get their chance to shine as competitive online gamers for the Quakers someday, possibly as early as next year.

The district is exploring the idea of forming an eSports team for students to compete against other high school students in online games like Fortnite, Rocket League and League of Legends. Just like athletes in other team sports at the school, they would have practices, a coach and competitions through eSports Ohio.

“Kind of exciting for our kids,” Superintendent Sean Kirkland said.

He and district Curriculum Director Jamie Kemats attended a session on eSports during the recent Ohio School Boards Association conference. Kemats presented information on eSports to the board Monday, noting that a survey completed last week with students showed 37 percent of the 710 respondents were interested in playing, or 272 students (39 females and 233 males). More than half were willing to practice three times per week and 68 percent reported having their own headset to use for online gaming.

Online gaming has become increasingly popular and may become an Olympic sport. More than 150 colleges offer eSports as a competitive sport, including Kent State University Salem campus, Mount Union and University of Akron, where Kemats’ nephew competes and received a scholarship. At the high school level, 157 high schools in Ohio offer eSports as a varsity or club sport.

Competitions are even televised on ESPN and it’s a billion-dollar industry.

Kemats said the benefits would include increasing student engagement, fostering teamwork and communication, students would learn strategy, problem solving, social skills and cooperation. They would also have the same academic restrictions as other sports, such as maintaining credits and grade point average and a code of conduct.

She said the next step is to look for funding sources or sponsorships, then coaches, the cost of equipment such as computers, headsets, screens, controllers and game licenses, finding space, club hours, decide on games (Rocket League, Fortnite, etc.) and register with eSports Ohio, which currently is not governed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

According to what they learned, 81 percent of students who participate in eSports have never been involved in any extracurricular activities at their schools before. That was the number that interested Kirkland.

“You’re engaging another part of your population,” he said.

Plus, it’s opening up job opportunities in fields such as cyber security or even for use in the medical field.

During his report, on a sad note, Kirkland offered condolences to the family of longtime school custodian Jim Fattler, who passed away over the weekend. Fattler worked for the district for 30 years before retiring in 2014. He continued helping the district as a volunteer.

“He’s gonna be sadly missed,” Kirkland said.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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