A new club is emerging at Eden Prairie High School, and with it, a new generation of players hoping to transform just playing video games into competing in high-stakes tournaments against top teams across the country.
Team managers recently petitioned to Eden Prairie High School’s administration to update the status of their club to a school-sponsored club. This would give the team access to a public-facing website, a Schoology page, a funding account for fundraising and funds for staffing.
Esports is competitive video gaming, and esports athletes have taken over online video-streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube to broadcast their competitions. Games such as Rocket League, Minecraft and other multi-player competitions are no different from traditional in-person sports for these EPHS students.
“In football, players have different techniques to get better,” said Sophia Fernandez, one of two girls in the club. “In esports, it takes time to hone your skills, while also learning different shortcuts to get better.”
Priority on inclusion
Nikhil Kori, co-manager of the EP gaming student group, helped start the group this past summer. The team of managers met and asked themselves one question:
What is something we can do to contribute to the EPHS community?
"We knew EPHS students who would be interested in an esports team, as many Minnesota schools already have esports teams,” Kori explained.
The passion for esports is strong at Eden Prairie High School as the group touts 50+ members, including a few girls. The share of women as fans and players of esports increases each year. Gender inclusion is the group's next initiative after getting established.
Unlike other sports where teams are split up by gender, esports are co-ed.
“Not only do we hope for member expansion but also to expand on the idea of making sure everyone has a place,” said Kori.
The group is planning a Girls for Gaming event, to encourage more girls to try out esports. They hope to increase gender diversity and expand their community to include more diverse group of students.
Technology is all around us
Fernandez has answered this question many times:
How do you balance video games with school work/life?
“My parents used to try and get me into traditional sports, but once they realized I was more drawn to gaming, they understood and accepted my passion,” Fernandez explained.
Video games do not consume the student’s lives, no more than a regular athlete in a traditional sport.
“We’re seeing increased relevance of studies proving that gaming can be positive for the brain. It’s an activity that requires high cognition by assessing a variety of inputs and making decisions in tense situations, just like the traditional high school sports,” said Kori.
Concordia College, a private college in St. Paul, recently visited the group, enticing the students to apply to their school and become collegiate athletes. Concordia College is one of only three private colleges in Minnesota that offers scholarships for esports athletes.
Many of the teammates hope to compete in esports at a collegiate level, inspiring them to pursue college and universities that provide scholarship funding opportunities. Fernandez, reflecting on the possibility of becoming a professional esports athlete, admitted it would be hard work. What seemed impossible one day is now possible the next.
“I never thought I’d be sitting with my own PC with two monitors and playing games at home, and then a college like Concordia would come and say “play for us!” I just never thought it would play out like that,” said Fernandez.
Concordia College has invited the EPHS students to go play in their state-of-the-art studio at any time.
Eden Prairie High School recently approved the club's request to be a school-sponsored activity which will give the esports team funding, logos, merch and live games to be viewable to the community.