‘The (naysayers) are coming around’

Anna Cannon, Colquitt player’s mother
Giles Gannon participates in Colquitt County's esports team.

Giles Gannon participates in Colquitt County's esports team.

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: What is a parent to say when their kid comes home asking to join a video game team at their high school? The question might cause some strange looks from certain parents. But according to Anna Cannon, the mother of Colquitt County esports player Giles Gannon, that should not be the case.

“It’s teamwork; it’s talking to one another; it’s communicating,” said Cannon, who teaches English at Colquitt County. “I think a lot of the other teachers have seen just how it’s given an opportunity to so many of these kids who aren't on regular sports teams, and they see that (the players) are excited about it.”

So what benefits has Anna Cannon noticed from her son’s participation?

Cannon: "For starters, he has made all kinds of friends who probably they never would have come together. And then you watch their matches with other schools they're playing against across the state. It's so interesting because they're all sitting there and they're communicating — 'You do this and you take that guy and watch out for so-and-so.' So they're strategizing. They're coming up with a plan, and they're communicating. And they get loud, but it's an exciting kind of loud. It's really neat to see they just get really excited about it.

“You just have to tell people, ‘Look, they're using their brains; they're communicating; they're coming up with a plan and a strategy. It's teamwork. It's talking to one another and communicating.’ So the naysayers ... they're coming around.

“Esports is only growing. I really do not think it's going away. And colleges are getting into it and offering scholarships now. I just think it's probably here to stay unless we just want to go backward. (Giles) has matured so much. The way he speaks now after esports. He communicates very well. That’s one thing I have noticed since he joined esports.”

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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