Video game enthusiasts at Abilene High School will have the opportunity to show their competitive skills beginning next semester.
After a long presentation and extensive discussion during the Sept. 9 Abilene school board meeting, board members approved the creation of the AHS E-gaming club, the school’s first endeavor into Esports.
Approval was granted with several caveats. For example, the only games allowed must be rated for users 17 and under, games cannot include any type of shooting and participants are held to the same eligibility policy required for other students involved in athletics and activities.
Fees to participate in the HSEL (High School Esports League, the largest Esports league in the United States) will be paid by the student, at least this first year. Also, the club will start meeting now in order to get organized for HSEL competition in the spring semester.
What are Esports?
“Plain and simple, Esports are competitive video games,” Abilene High School science and computer programming teacher Mitchell Burkett told the board. He and Anthony Brown, USD 435 tech assistant, will co-sponsor the new group which Brown noted is “more than a club” and more like a team.
Esports and videos have become a calling card for students interested in technology and engineering, Burkett said. Esports allow kids to compete in tournaments and represent AHS through weekly games as a school team.
“It’s a way for kids to work together and come together who normally might not have done so,” Burkett explained.
Esports is growing and is becoming more known in the public sector. More than a thousand schools have joined the HSEL and more are joining every day, Burkett said.
AHS would be the first area school to jump onboard. Co-sponsor Brown said several Topeka, Kansas City and Wichita area schools are signed up to participate as well as colleges like Kansas Wesleyan and Baker University.
The two sponsors or coaches will run the meetings, monitor tournaments, organize practices and enforce policies. Burkett said the process works through a communication service called “Discord.”
Students will meet on Wednesdays after school to hear updates about what’s going on and other informative items. Burkett said they will emphasize to students that they are held to the same standard as any other AHS athlete.
“Unlike in football, we don’t have to worry about head injuries in Esports, instead we focus on what is and is not appropriate for students,” Burkett said.
Burkett feels it’s important for kids to play games that are appropriate for them based on ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) ratings, ensuring they are not playing games geared toward people over the age of 17 unless they have parental approval.
Video games or guns?
While some parents may be okay with their child playing mature games, Board Member Jeff Bathurst expressed reservations, particularly when it comes to playing military style shooting games as part of a school activity.
“My main concern is with all the school shootings we’ve had,” Bathurst said, commenting that the military uses video games to desensitize people. “As a school district I don’t want any games where there is military style combat or shooting people as part of the competition.”
Brown said the HSEL offers those games, but they require parental consent and many students already own them. He also mentioned a study that showed video games don’t really affect attitudes and said there’s no correlation between video games and shootings.
“They also go out on the range too,” Brown said, referring to guns.
Bathurst said he sees where much of the blame is placed on guns, but felt video games also are at fault.
Brown replied there’s no evidence pointing to video games and the two engaged in a short back and forth before AHS Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Will Burton said the club would require games be rated for people below the age of 17.
“Me, personally, I would prefer not to do it at all, but that would be an option,” Bathurst said.
Monitoring students and coaches
Board Member Chris West asked Burton how he would monitor the Esports club and coaches.
Burton said he expects the coaches to monitor the students like coaches do in any other club or organization. As for monitoring the coaches, Burton said he usually learns of issues from a third party and then has to investigate.
If an issue occurs during a competition, Brown said the other competitors are likely to report it and the offending student would face consequences. The HSEL has rules and guidelines.
Board Member Mark Wilson said the whole idea of Esports was new to him, but feels the club would provide “better monitoring, a little better direction and organization” than having nothing at all.
Burton said his first concern about Esports had to do with violent games and his second involved the hours a student will spend playing video games.
“My second question was: How do we know kids are not up until 2 a.m. under the auspices of playing on the Abilene High School team?” Burton said, “But they (HSEL) control the game times and most are done by 6 o’clock at night. So if a kid tells a parent ‘I’m gaming for the team.’ No, they’re not.”
Board Member Gregg Noel said he’s in favor of anything that gets students involved, especially students who want to participate but are not interested in traditional activities or athletics. He suggested following Burton’s suggestion to keep games under the age of 17 and begin competition in the spring, especially since the fall Esports season is already starting.
“I see where you’re coming from and you know our concerns as a board,” Noel told Burkett and Brown.
Burton said if the club begins meeting now, it will give the coaches and participants a chance to start practices, talk about how the club will work, the ethics behind it and other requirements.
Noel said he would like an update about the number of participants at the end of the first semester in December.
“We’re going to do baby steps, see how it goes in the spring, then see what we want to do as a board,” Noel said.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org