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Since the pandemic began, several California school districts have established or joined esports leagues where students can play video games as a team and participate in tournaments and competitions while learning about game design and computer programming.

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Since the pandemic began, several California school districts have established or joined esports leagues where students can play video games as a team and participate in tournaments and competitions while learning about game design and computer programming.

While traditional sports are taking time out in many schools, more districts have turned to organized video games to provide students with the team sports experience they missed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

West Contra Costa Unified, Los Angeles Unified, and Sacramento City Unified are just a few of the districts in California that have joined or formed “esports” leagues in recent years, where teams of students compete in online video game tournaments and against other schools. Some schools link computer programming and STEM training to sport, and some colleges even offer esports scholarships.

Proponents say sports can be a gateway for non-athletic students to take advantage of team sports. West Contra Costa Unified Superintendent Matthew Duffy, whose interest in bringing sport to the 30,000-student school district in Richmond began well before the pandemic, sees sport as an opportunity to connect students at a time when they do feel most isolated.

“I hope it really attracts a group of students who may not have participated in this type of group activity and brings out all of the great things that sport does – teamwork, collaboration, hard work and responsibility,” said Duffy. “I really think kids are using video games right now to connect with each other and be social because so many multi-player games are played together in a landscape to solve problems together. I know that not only are they really using these games in these pointless ways, but also to connect socially through some activity. “

The popularity of online games rose steadily before Covid-19 and soared during the lockdown, according to experts. According to esports research group NewZoo, the esports industry will be valued at $ 159.3 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $ 200 billion by 2023. At the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024 there will even be sport as a demonstration sport.

The Education Board of the WCC Unified School District unanimously approved a $ 71,700 agreement on December 16 under the federal CARES Act with the California League of Esports – a partnership that began in September between the professional development provider, the California League of Schools, and technology education provider, Mastery Coding. The idea is to bring sport to the 14 middle and high schools in the district. Duffy said teachers are now undergoing trainer training so students can participate during the spring sports season and continue the summer into next year.

Games West Contra Costa Unified can select for its esports program through the California League of Esports include Overwatch and Fortnite – popular team-based shooting and survival games – sports games FIFA and Madden NFL, and the classic fighting game Super Smash Bros from the 1990s.

Duffy said his hope is that the district can bring this curriculum into the classroom and eventually offer not only an after-school program, but also coding-based classes that focus on video game design. Offering such classes could lead more students to well-paying careers in the tech industry, he said, especially given the district’s proximity to Silicon Valley.

“We all want more of our students, especially color students, to be employed in Silicon Valley,” said Duffy. “In the technology industry, we know that so many employees come from abroad and from the region. We would love if more of our students could work seamlessly from home, especially in the Bay Area, which is so expensive. “

With West Contra Costa Unified, the California League of Esports serves eight school districts and 21 high school and middle schools, said Cathy Perry, executive director of the California League of Schools.

School districts that have joined the California League of Esports

Sacramento City Unified

San Luis Coastal Unified

Lowell Joint Unified

Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified

Tehachapi Unified

Weaver Union

Standard Unified

West Contra Costa Unified

The California League of Esports isn’t the only program of its kind. Santa Monica-based PlayVS has sports platforms for more than 21,000 high schools and colleges across the country, according to its website.

California schools had introduced games in both academia and sports prior to the pandemic. In 2019, the California Interscholastic Federation partnered with PlayVS to offer esports championship tournaments.

Augustus F. Hawkins High School in South Los Angeles launched the Critical Design and Gaming School in 2018, whose classes focus on games and game design. Compton Unified and Downey Unified have also hosted esports tournaments in recent years.

Schoolchildren are also benefiting from the growing trend: According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, colleges awarded esports scholarships and grants totaling around 16 million US dollars in 2019.

“Esports has generally grown into a billion dollar industry and academic esports is still in its infancy, but has grown exponentially each year,” said Ben O’Gradney, executive vice president of sales and service, Mastery Coding.

Students can use their own game consoles or devices from home, or those provided by the district. Tony Wold, assistant superintendent of business services at West Contra Costa Unified, said that any junior and high school student in the district who meets academic requirements will have the opportunity to attend, as the district provides Chromebooks to all of its students and those who Chromebooks make it available.

“This means the world of sports and coding is not limited to those students who have additional resources,” Wold said via email.

The League of Esports recommends establishing GPA and attendance requirements as qualifications for participation, as many do for traditional sports. Duffy said West Contra Costa Unified has not yet determined what its academic requirements will be.

The League of Esports also offers a range of coach curricula to educate students about career and college opportunities in the video game industry.

“If you want to become a software designer, this is the path you can take,” said Alan Sitomer, CEO of Mastery Coding. “If you’re going to be a graphic artist, or want to learn about social media and advertising, or if you’re interested in administrative or leadership skills, there are a number of options.”

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