‘A great move by the GHSA’

Lucas Bailey, Georgia State esports coach
Georgia State's esports team has been competing this 2017 and won three state titles.

Georgia State's esports team has been competing this 2017 and won three state titles.

Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports.Last week: Officiating

At Issue: Competitive gaming has evolved from a hobby in damp basements to a multi-million dollar industry featuring high school, college and professional esports teams across the nation. Pro teams compete on ESPN's networks; fledgling college programs are offering scholarships, and high school associations, including the GHSA, are crowning state champions in various competitive video games.

What is esports? According to PlayVS, the company that conducts the GHSA esports state championships, esports is defined as follows:

“Esports officially stands for electronic sports, not to be confused with video games. It’s much more than that. What sets it apart is the level of organized competitive game-play between teams and its own strict set of rules and guidelines. Esports is about teamwork, communication, strategic thinking and leadership — in all the same ways that traditional sports are, and then some.”

The GHSA added esports in 2018 and has awarded state championships in two games: League of Legends and Rocket League. The league started with around 60 teams and grew to around 140 teams in the second year.

League of Legends, or “League” for short, is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). The game requires teams to compete in matches, lasting anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes on average. In each game mode, teams work together to achieve a victory condition, typically destroying the core building (called the Nexus) in the enemy team’s base after bypassing a line of defensive structures called turrets, or towers. Rocket League, the other GHSA sanctioned esport, is a virtual vehicular soccer game. Of the two, it is more like your typical sport, where the goal is to get the ball in the net. Think soccer, but with rocket-powered RC cars.

Both games involve multiple players, require teamwork, skill, critical thinking, practice and prep.

Can we expect esports to boom at the high school level?

The Skinny: Georgia State University began offering competitive esports in fall 2017, and the program has won three Georgia Esports League championships, the SMITE NACE (National Association of Collegiate Esports) championship in 2019 and the AVGL (American Video Gaming League) SMITE championship in 2019.

Lucas Bailey is the esports coordinator at Georgia State, a cross between a traditional coach and a program director. He coaches, sets up practice schedules, competitions and hosts events.

Bailey’s perspective of the college side of esports offers a glimpse of what the next level holds for serious competitors at the GHSA esports level.

Bailey: "I definitely think it was a great move by the GHSA. One of the things that a lot of people don't realize is that over the last five years the number of universities and colleges which has varsity esports programs has gone up about five-fold. For example, we're a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports. When we joined in 2017, there were about 25 members, and now I believe there are around 180-200. And so what the GHSA has done by creating your own leagues, I think they provide a Georgia high school students an excellent opportunity to really stand out as candidates for those programs. There are going to be very few high school students who can say that they played on esports teams while in high school and who can demonstrate that they have the experience to work with and to play at that kind of competitive level.

“We get we get a fair number of questions as a university on why we are putting time and money toward supporting esports. Our answer is always two-fold. First, for us, esports is not separated into its own department. We are not, for example, under athletics or student life. Our esports program is in an academic department, the Creative Media Industries Institute. And the reason for that is because we see participating in and teaching students about esports as being a very important part of learning about essentially new media content creation, right?

“Esports is already a billion-dollar industry. It has been growing dramatically over the last couple of years. And so if we want to prepare students to go into any of those related fields — be it game design, esports event creation, esports content creation — we need to provide them the opportunity to actually become engaged with that while they’re in university. It’s all well to provide classes on, for example, game design. But if they are getting real-world experience, then that is what gives them the leg up when it comes to looking for opportunities and jobs.

"The second reason is that — and what I think a lot of people don’t appreciate — I’ve always argued that one of the greatest advantages of traditional sports is not that you go out and participate in something athletic. Obviously, that kind of physical activity is good. But what students really learn from that is how to be a part of a team, how to work together with other people to set consistent goals, to achieve those goals, to practice toward bettering yourself. It’s that kind of self-improvement and being able to work together with others that really makes you improve as a person, and esports offers all of those opportunities. It simply occurs in a digital environment rather than a physical one.”

AT ISSUE: esports

• Travis Noland, Oconee football coach
• Penny Pitts Mitchell, GHSA esports director 
• Lucas Bailey, Georgia State esports coach
• Ashely Hodge, Colquitt County SuperCoach
• Anna Cannon, esports player's mom
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