Springdale students receive national recognition in esports

SPRINGDALE — Students at the Don Tyson School of Innovation have gained national recognition in the growing world of esports.

The team, founded five years ago, has won four state championships in the past two years. Earlier this month, it was tied with six other teams for 10th place in a national ranking by USA Today. The team was also ranked third nationally in League of Legends, one of the most popular esports games, according to a press release.

The results were compiled by looking at the top esports teams since 2019 based on global data compiled by PlayVS, the company that organizes the competitions.

According to the National Federation of High School Associations, which recognizes esports as an official sport, esports is the fastest growing high school sport in the United States. Last year, more than $16 million was awarded in scholarships to esports athletes at hundreds of colleges across the country, the association’s website says.

The Arkansas Activities Association recognized esports in 2019 as an activity, similar to a choir or band, rather than a sanctioned sport, according to Bobby Swofford, deputy executive director of the organization, which governs sports and sports. state high school activities.

Schools may have teams for a specific game or a variety of games, Swofford said. In the past, students could participate in five games, including League of Legends, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and Madden NFL. This year NBA2k was added, he said.

Esports competitions are open and not divided into conferences by school size, Swofford said. There are fall and spring competition seasons, he said.

The association partners with PlayVS to organize competitions. Teams log into the system from their individual schools to compete, and PlayVS maintains records and standings, including postseason seeds that lead to the state tournament, Swofford said.

The Tyson School of Innovation’s esports program was created the year before esports was recognized by the Arkansas Activities Association, coach Burl Sniff said.

The Tyson program has grown to have more than 40 entrants across multiple teams for each game, he said.

Esports offers many of the benefits of more traditional sports, teaching students skills such as teamwork, problem solving, leadership, management, communication, pressure keeping and math, said Sniff.

Students spend hours a week practicing, bonding and forming friendships, Sniff said. They are also held to the same standards of attendance, education and behavior as athletes, he said.

Research shows that 80% to 85% of high school students involved in esports do not participate in any other school activity, Swofford said.

Participation in school activities has a real impact on graduation rates, Swofford said. Children who participate in a school activity have a success rate of 99%; kids who don’t have an 89% graduation rate, he said.

Esports is also part of a billion-dollar gaming industry that’s not going anywhere anytime soon, Swofford said. The activity can introduce students to careers in areas such as computer programming or testing and game design, he said.

2022 graduates Anthony White and Drake Mayes were part of the school’s esports team from the start. White returned to the School of Innovation as a coach, he said.

White is attending Northwest Arkansas Community College to study information technology and compete on the college’s new esports team, he said. Mayes is studying information technology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and recently applied to join the university team, he said.

White and Mayes said esports taught them about teamwork, leadership and communication. In League of Legends, teams play five-on-five, so communication and cooperation are crucial, White said. As team captain, White watched other teams’ game footage and prepared a strategy, he said.

“It’s a lot like traditional sports actually,” White said. “The physical element is removed, so often it’s undermined, but in reality you’re still spending four to six hours a day training or if you’re not training you watch or listen to something to try to improve. “

Sometimes the team lost because two people didn’t get along or lacked synergy, even though they were more skilled than their opponents, Mayes said.

“All five people need to be on the same level of communication,” he said.

Juniors Michael Arriola, Keith Harper and Andres Diaz also said they learned teamwork and communication skills by participating in esports.

“I really like being able to hang out with people with common interests who generally want to do what I do,” Diaz said. “I have people who depend on me, which makes me grow. It’s really reassuring to know that I have a team behind me who supports me and I support them.”

Regional growth

Last year, 18 high schools in northwest Arkansas offered esports programs and 151 high schools across the state had teams in League of Legends, the most popular esports game, Swofford said.

Rogers New Technology High School is gearing up for its third esports season, according to coach Keith Godlewski. The program started with one team and five players, he said. Last year the program had three teams and 16 players and this year Godlewski expects 20 to 30 players in five to six different games, he said.

Last year, the school launched two teams in Smash Bros., and one of those teams won the fall and spring state championships, he said.

“It was ridiculously cool,” he said. “For all three years our teams have made the playoffs.”

“All of my players start out feeling shy and reluctant to be part of a group, and quickly learn to overcome those feelings once they settle in and start playing competitively with others,” he said. .

Bentonville High School has had an esports team for four years, according to coach Gentry Collier. When Collier and fellow coach Josh Langham took over the program, the team played two games and had 10 members, he said.

Last year, the team grew to 18 players in grades 9-12 and is looking to grow by adding games.

“The popularity of esports is growing pretty quickly, not just in our schools but across the country,” Collier said. “Our Rocket League team had their own Twitch channel, and we also streamed Super Smash Bros. games. This year, we’re working more on our streaming platform to expand our audience so people can see how talented we are. here at BHS.”

The Bentonville team made it to multiple quarterfinals and semifinals in the state playoffs, and the students received college scholarship offers, Collier said. In October, the team will compete in the ReWired Festival, a high school Rocket League tournament, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, he said.

Siloam Springs High School also had an esports team for four years, according to Luke Shoemaker, vice principal and director of career and technical education. The program started with League of Legends and then added Rocket League two years ago, Shoemaker said. This year, the school plans to add Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, he said.

The program had about seven players on the League of Legends team and eight players on two teams playing Rocket League, he said. The League of Legends team reached the national semi-finals in the spring of 2020, he said.

“They build camaraderie and pride in their school,” Shoemaker said. “I’ve also seen some of my more reserved players grow into strong leaders confident in their knowledge and skills in the game.”

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