LLOYD Their playing field is as small as a video screen and as large as the world.
They fight epic battles without leaving their seats.
They are interscholastic competitors on the same level as the football and basketball teams, although their uniforms are jeans and T-shirts rather than shoulder pads and helmets.
They are the Greenup County High School e-Sports team, the first of its kind in Northeast Kentucky, and if it’s Tuesday, they’re playing League of Legends against another school’s team.
Five team members gather in an upstairs classroom and sit at a bank of gaming computers, don headphones, do some stretching exercises to loosen their necks and wrists, and at the stroke of 4 p.m. log in along with their opponents at Elizabethtown High School.
For the next hour or so, the room is mostly quiet. What sounds almost like static is the constant clicking of computer mice. From time to time one of the team members will make a comment or suggestion into the microphone built into the headset.
Walk behind them and look at their screens and you will see five views of a battlefield, each from the viewpoint of a different player. Each player has an on-screen avatar.
The players in this match include:
— Freshman William Hulett, screen character Thresh.
— Senior Bryan Braden, screen character Lucian.
— Sophomore Kaylee Fisher, screen character Lassandra.
— Sophomore Andrew Nicely, screen character Seguanni Amumu.
Senior Tim Wright, screen character Karma.
Poised to jump in if any of the five can’t play is substitute freshman Shamus Niles, screen character Ahri.
League of Legends is one of several games played by eSports teams. eSports is swiftly becoming a world-wide phenomenon, with professional teams filling giant arenas where spectators watch their matches on Jumbotrons. Top professional eSports players — yes, there are professionals — rake in millions of dollars. ESPN covers eSports.
And recently the Kentucky High School Athletic Association recognized it as an interscholastic sport, coach Stacey Spears said.
Spears is not a gamer herself, but learned about eSports over the summer at Shawnee State University, which has a collegiate team.
The team’s inaugural year brought out 17 hopefuls, all of which made the team, according to Spears, the school district’s digital learning coordinator.
eSports at the high school level attracts kids who are looking at careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM fields that are in high demand, Spears said. There are scholarships available for talented eSports players.
“I thought it would be a good way to test my skills, and when I heard about scholarships, I wanted to take the opportunity,” said Nicely, who when he is not gaming is writing poetry. “It tests how I can problem-solve against other people.”
And that is a skill useful both in technology careers and in art. “It tests the mind,” he said.
The competition is exciting but brings with it a sense of obligation, according to Hulett. “As a team we represent Greenup County High School. It can put pressure on you. You can be put in the spotlight. Maybe not like a football team, but we want to feel like were accomplishing something,” he said.
One thing Hulett can do that ballplayers can’t is wear a green plush hat for good luck. The hat resembles the one worn by game character Teemo, a sort of anthropomorphic squirrel.
Nicely wears a lucky ring and Braden slips on a lucky necklace.
The talismans don’t work this time around because Elizabethtown wins the match. But over time, eSports players win in a broader sense.
“They gain in success, self-confidence and critical thinking,” Spears said.
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