EXCLUSIVE Q+A: CONNECTICUT BECOMES FIRST STATE TO SUPPORT HIGH SCHOOL ESPORTS
TNL Take: Professional eSports leagues mimicing traditional sports leagues? Check. Colleges giving out eSports scholarships? 50+ schools and counting.
Where's the next batch of eSports athletes going to hone their skills for future play? Just like traditional sports: High Schools.
Connecticut becomes the first state to bring eSports throughout its high schools via the Electronic Gaming Federation's (EGF) partnership with the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS).
Just like traditional high school sports, various high schools will compete in a 8 week regular season, culminating in a state championship to qualify for EGFH's national tournament.
The following is a TNL Exclusive Q+A with Tyler Schrodt, EGF's CEO about the partnership and what it means for eSports overall.
/01 TNL: There has been a lot of activity in the collegiate eSports space but very little at the high school level. What do you see in this opportunity?
TS: EGF started with a basic mission - build the next generation of the NCAA for eSports. In almost every conversation we've had with a college, high school comes up, and often the context of what a college can do around their local community or how esports can help them recruit the next generation of students so this was just a natural evolution.
For us, high school has always been a part of our development roadmap, it's just happening faster than I could've predicted because of the amazing partners we've found.
We take a lot of inspiration from traditional sports and when you compare eSports to the current sports infrastructure, we're still a ways away from that level of stability but we're excited to help build it.
/02 TNL: What does the partnership with Connecticut entail and why were they first?
TS: We started working with teachers from Connecticut in the first part of 2016. As we got more involved, we made the decision to extend the operations we'd developed with our collegiate league to high schools. After working together on several local tournaments, we ran a pilot season in the Spring of 2017 and that ultimately lead to our partnership with the state.
Connecticut provides a unique environment to start this in because of the diversity of circumstance in a relatively small geographic area. For example, there's a wide range of socioeconomic status represented in Connecticut and one of our national goals is to make esports accessible to every student who wants to participate. We'll have the opportunity to experiment with potential solutions to a wide range of challenges in Connecticut that we hope we'll be able to employ in other states and countries as they join EGFH.
/03 TNL: How important is it that this is an “official league” with administrative backing?
TS:I think it's incredibly important. Administrative buy-in means you can make continuous progress towards what eSports can become without having to start over every four years when a student graduates. I truly believe that eSports and gaming in general can be an incredibly powerful platform to bring together communities from all over the world and provide incredible opportunities to people - but it's difficult to build on shifting sands.
/04 TNL: What’s the relationship with UConn tied to this?
TS: All of this actually started because of UConn - a former professor to one of my staff connected us to what they were originally doing and kicked off the whole evolution of our work in Connecticut. UConn's been a part of our collegiate league for a long time as well so we were really excited to be able to partner with them in Connecticut for EGFH.
When we were running our pilot season in the Spring, we held the statement championship tournament at UConn and they offered to provide scholarships to their School of Engineering to the state champions. We were absolutley blown away by that partnership and we're fortunate to be continuing that partnership into the launch of the first season in March 2018.
/05 TNL: I have a 9 year old son that’s obsessed with Minecraft and I truly believe that the game will be integrated into elementary school curriculum at a certain point. Can this be built at the foundation within elementary schools?
TS: Absolutely. We actually get a lot of requests from middle schools within the same districts that we work with at the high school level and although we don't currently have plans to build a middle school league, we have made exceptions to allow younger students to be a part of high school programs.
We want eSports to work as a platform for students - you may follow the obvious path of aspiring to play on a team and someday join a pro team, but you may just want to pursue a career in esports and that requires educational infrastructure.
We've actually already started working with schools to build experiential learning curriculums. Programs are often student run so our the working model is to enable a student to take something they learn in a classroom and apply it directly to a real life scenario right after school.
We also run a broadcaster training program in collaboration with some pro casters so students have the opportunity to learn to become a caster/host and then through us they can actually work as paid talent in our tournaments.
/06 TNL: Now that Connecticut is on board, other states have to be examining this also. What’s next?
TS: In the coming months and years we'll be working with other states across the country to become part of our national league. There's a lot of work to be done and we're really looking forward to the challenge and you can expect a ton of announcements from EGF with regards to high school and college soon.