eSports drawing high school competitors

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JASON HAWK
EDITOR

Basketball is the sport of choice for some.

For others, it’s running, soccer, lacrosse, chess boxing, quidditch, wakeboarding, fishing, karate, or stock car racing.

The Digital Age entry to the fray is eSports — competitive video gaming, which has become a billion-dollar industry worldwide.

Teachers Amanda Sears and Brian Rubinski are behind an effort to launch an eSports team this fall at Amherst Steele High School.

“There’s a lot of schools doing it, more than what we knew,” Rubinski said.

Rocky River has “fielded” its own competitive team for several years, for example, and there are multiple leagues the Comets could join.

The state is even considering sanctioning video games as an official sport, he said.

Even colleges are building their own eSports teams. Ohio State is expected to open a 4,000-square-foot gaming arena this year to compete with other Power 5 schools in a newly-forced league commissioned by the Electronic Gaming Federation. The university is adding an eSports major as well, citing career opportunities in fields such as game design, programming, and the business of games.

In 2017, Jordan Zakrajsek proved just how lucrative the pursuit can be. As an Amherst senior, he earned a full athletic scholarship to Lourdes University to play eSports, specializing in “League of Legends,” a strategy game that draws an estimated 100 million players per month.

With that 21st century vision in mind, the idea for a Steele team found approval from athletic director Casey Wolf, principal Joe Tellier, and assistant superintendent Michael Molnar, said Rubsinski.

Once word got around Steele that there are dozens of games and tournaments at sites open to high-schoolers all over the region, about 30 students expressed interest in testing their skills.

So how does it work?

There are plenty of competitive games out there — “Fortnite,” “Counterstrike Go,” “Madden Football,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” and “Super Smash Bros.” are just a few of the titles that test gamers’ reflexes and decision-making skills.

A lot of kids — and adults — are already playing those games online with friends. Forming a team will make gaming a social sport, Rubinski said.

“People you never thought would be in the same sport will be able to compete together and against each other,” he said.

“The key thing, like any sport, is there’s a lot of competition and you learn a lot of the same skills you would in any other sport,” he said. “You learn teamwork, you learn dedication and showing up to practice… Even if you don’t go into a professional video game field, much like our high school athletes who play other sports, you’re still going to be learning a lot of skills that are transferable to other fields and other environments,”

In a team setting, Rubinski will also be able to help make sure students are safe when playing in the online arena. He also plans to stress how important it is to balance gaming with physical activity and homework.

“I tell the kids I grew up with gaming, I played a lot, but it didn’t take over my life,” he said. “I still hung out with friends and family.”

Rubinski is recruiting interested students. Parents are invited to an informational session at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 23 at the Steele creative learning center to learn more about the team and to hear from Zakrajsek.

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