Illinois high schools start esports video gaming teams

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More than two dozen schools around Illinois have started esports teams as the Illinois High School Association has recognized video gaming as an emerging high school sport. | AP photo

DECATUR, Ill. — More than two dozen Illinois schools have started esports teams as the Illinois High School Association has recognized video gaming as an emerging high school sport.

Eisenhower High School is one of those schools, and so far more than 30 students at the Decatur school have expressed an interest in its new esports team, The Herald & Review reported.

Matt Gremos is an English teacher and a coach for Eisenhower’s team. He said the closest high school teams are in Peoria and Chicago.

The season will run October through January, with practices starting in August. Teams compete in multiplayer games over the internet, but play in person for the state level competition. The teams will have jerseys, practices and championships.

“The last five years is when it’s become a very large thing, even outside of the gaming community, it’s become a spectator sport,” he said. “They actually fill up arenas.”

Gremos said participating students will face the same grade-point average requirements as other extracurricular activities. He said those students learn sportsmanship, teamwork and responsibility.

The Eisenhower team isn’t yet sure which games will be used, although shooting games aren’t allowed at the high school level, said Michael Karas, an economics and social studies teacher who is one of the team’s coaches.

“League of Legends,” a fantasy team game, and “Rocket League,” where players operate cars that play soccer are being considered.

While the Illinois High School Association hasn’t officially sanctioned esports, it is looking to gauge its popularity, said LeAnna Mutchler is an administrative assistant with the association.

The increasing acceptance means that colleges can offer scholarships to outstanding players, just as they do with other sports.

At the collegiate level, esports programs have been spreading since Robert Morris University in Chicago began a varsity program in 2014. Since then, the sport has boomed, with about 50 programs and a governing body, the National Association of Collegiate Esports.

Illinois College and Illinois Wesleyan University also have programs. Some colleges around the U.S. even offer standout players scholarships.

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