Monitors glowed from a computer lab in John W. Bate Middle School on Thursday after school, with the sounds of frantically clicking computer mice — some specially made for gaming.
This is Danville High School's esports team. Along with the high school students, middle schoolers represent the junior varsity team. That day, a Rocket League tournament was going on, a game involving cars and soccer balls.
John Smith, coach of the esports team and also head DHS girls' soccer coach and technology resource teacher at JWBMS, said what he loves about esports is how it can give students a place to get involved and feel they belong.
“There’s a very big difference between this and what would be considered traditional athletics, obviously," he said. "What I like most about esports is it draws a different group of kids, and it gives kids who may not find themselves engaged in anything with the school — it gives them an opportunity to get involved.”
He added that at home, kids are playing video games with other people, against other people, anyways, so the esports team gives them ability to come into the lab and do that representing the high school.
This season, the team is playing Rocket League and League of Legends tournaments. Esports has two seasons, fall and spring, and last season the team played several more games in addition to those two.
Smith said he's been girls' soccer coach for about 10 years now, and esports brings a different environment. For example, some of the students brought in pizza that day.
"It is a little more laid-back, because typically with traditional sports you’re encouraging your players to constantly practice after a practice," he said. “This, you really don’t have to, because there’s a reason why they’re here, and it’s because most of them are engaged in playing these games already anyway, so coming here is a good chance to work on the teamwork, the communication side of things.”
Jackson Erwin, a sophomore who has been with the team since eighth grade, makes the overlays representing the team on Twitch, a video game streaming website. Other schools can watch streamed gameplay from DHS, and vice versa. There are a lot of artistic elements to esports, Erwin said.
“I really like esports because it’s so broad," he said. "You can’t categorize esports as a specific game because we have many people in here playing four or five different types of games, so it’s a great environment, and everyone’s willing to help everyone.”
For example, the varsity team has shown the junior varsity team a lot of basics, since they're just starting out. He said another great thing about esports is its ability to get people connected.
“It slowed down a little bit over COVID, but what’s nice about this is you’re able to do it at home if you have the right equipment," Erwin said. “That’s another thing about gaming like this, is you can still connect with each other.”
Some students are interested in playing esports on the college level, like senior Hayes Arnold. He said he's currently considering either the University of Kentucky or Murray State University.
What makes him want to continue esports, he said, is “It kind of feels like a job to do a normal sport, but here you can come and just have fun. There’s more of that element to it.”
He's proud of how the team has done as well, which he's been on since its start about two years ago — they've made it to state playoffs every year, he said.
When he first started, “Mr. Smith didn’t think I was ever going to come back after that because I kind of just sat there by myself."
Now, some people on the team he never would have known had he not gotten involved, he said.
“I’ve definitely made some friendships because of esports.”
- Danville Independent Schools