In a world more connected than ever before thanks to the internet, it’s no surprise how e-sports have taken off over recent years, spawning countless leagues globally.
Now that the Alaska School Activities Association has sanctioned e-sports as a high school activity for the 2019-20 school year, Alaska high school students can duke it out via online video games while representing their schools.
ASAA executive director Billy Strickland, whose group sanctioned the activity at a board meeting last month, said part of the appeal of e-sports as a high school activity is the opportunity to “connect with the population of students that aren’t currently involved in school activities."
“The value of educational-based activities," Strickland said, “are that they get kids coming to school, get them to keep their grades up and they feel connected with the school, and then they get the same lifetime benefit of learning teamwork and how to get up when things don’t go your way and so forth.”
Strickland said the decision was made easier because some schools, including Dimond High in Anchorage and schools in the Valley and Yukon-Koyukuk School District, have had success with their programs.
Given their success, ASAA expects more schools to buy in to offering e-sports. While they are finalizing specifics, schools will ultimately get to decide whether or not e-sports is an activity they want to offer this fall.
“This year, we had several Anchorage schools (with e-sports programs) ... we believe all of those schools will continue (to offer e-sports) -- and we anticipate other schools coming online as well," Strickland said.
Despite its name, e-sports will be an activity rather than a varsity sport, although eligibility and transfer rules that apply to sports will apply to e-sports, according to Strickland.
ASAA will work with PlayVS, which on its website claims to be “the official league for high school esports.”
There will be e-sports seasons in the fall and in the spring, with state championships occurring at the end of each season. Teams will be coed and consist of six or seven players. As of right now, “Rocket League,” “League of Legends” and “Smite” are the games players will compete in.
Each game accommodates four or five players per match, so schools with larger populations will likely have multiple teams that may end up facing each other in the postseason, Strickland said.
Decisions have not yet been made on classifications, but schools may end up being classified not by location or school size but by internet speed.
“Among some of our concerns are schools with faster broadband capabilities would eventually have some competitive advantage over those with slower internet speeds," Strickland said. "We have to wait to see how many schools start playing and then we’ll base the classification system potentially not by the size of the schools, but on their broadband capabilities.”
Schools won’t have to spend a lot of money to travel, because competition is online, but there will be startup costs, he said.
“You pretty much need a PC-based computer, the mice, the headsets, monitors and some of those types of equipment,” Strickland said. “There will be that initial startup cost, but the big driver in Alaska in terms of activities is always cost of travel. With that not being the case, we think it’s going to give schools the opportunity to keep their students engaged in an activity without necessarily having to charter planes or buses or those types of things."