Can video games be defined as sports?
Similar debates have been sparked by poker, racing model airplanes, and chess, among other competitive activities.
Wherever you stand on the issue, competitive gaming is starting to resemble athletic leagues. It’s especially true in North Hudson, where students broke ground at Helix eSports gaming center.
Students attending North Bergen High School, Weehawken High School, Memorial High School and High Tech High School participated in the first school-sanctioned gaming tournament after a practice season that ran through the spring.
At a first-time invitational tournament on May 17, dozens of students from all four schools competed in brackets to win tournaments in “Super Smash Bros.,” “League of Legends,” and “Overwatch.” Like any other sport, student teams were bused to and from the venue, and competed under their schools’ team banner. One faculty member from each district served as coach.
This year, North Bergen took home the bragging rights for winning the “League of Legends” bracket with three wins and no losses. It also dominated in a double-elimination tournament in “Overwatch.” High Tech High was the winner in a “Super Smash Bros.” tournament, climbing to the top of a bracket of 16 two-person teams.
The sport of the 21st century
At the professional level, international tournaments featuring dozens of games host teams which compete for prize pools that sometimes near $100 million, with hundreds of thousands of spectators, and plenty of sponsorships, coaches, team managers, and national coverage.
That fanfare trickles down. At the college level, Esports teams are massively popular. The turnout in North Hudson shows that high schoolers are on the front line in fostering their own organized competitions.
A full-time league in the works
According to coaches at the “Battle for Hudson County,” a full-time lineup of competitions will take place during the fall season. Until now, each school had a gaming club, but there was little room for tournament-style competition when everything was kept at an intramural level.
Paul Bannon, a STEAM instructor from Weehawken High School who coached the Indians gaming team this year, said that demand for a league like this was so high that he had no choice but to conduct tryouts. If interest continues, there may be varsity and junior varsity divisions in the North Hudson gaming leagues.
Jack Vandervelde, a co-founder of Helix eSports, which was the host to the invitational tournament, said that the “Battle for Hudson County” was just the beginning. They’re looking to include more schools in the burgeoning league.
At the high school level, members of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association are considering recognizing Esports leagues within the organization, which regulates and organizes sports leagues for hundreds of schools in New Jersey.
It would be an entree to college leagues, which have a vested interest in recruiting high school players. Teams from Rutgers University and New York Institute of Technology watched the North Hudson tournament from a live stream, scouting a few players from each district.
Currently, some scholarship programs are available in select schools affiliated with the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Some gamers are paid to play while they get a degree.