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A new sport is coming to the Parkland. It requires no ball, glove, bat, helmet or racket. No protective gear is needed.

It’s called eSports, or electronic sports, and is a competitive sport which uses video games. It’s an organized sport that includes multiple video game players.

The world of competitive video gaming is a fast-growing phenomenon.

Streaming services have turned what were casual gamers into competitive gamers.

eSports is competitive, organized online video gaming played in a team setting or player against player. Competitors are usually divided into different leagues or teams and face off in the same games with gamers who play from home. Some of the most common games they play are League of Legends, NBA 2K, Fortnite and Madden NFL.

An eSports player has career statistics just like in other sports. The best players can advance to earn college scholarships or even play on professional teams.

At-home gamers follow their favorite video game players in real time by watching them play games online. According to CNN, it’s estimated that close to 400 million people worldwide will watch eSports this year alone. Most of these fans are from North America, South Korea and China.

West County School District is currently planning to add a new gaming club to begin sometime this spring. Fourteen new high-end computers have been purchased through the 21st Century grant. These computers will be located in the high school’s industrial technology computer lab.

Initially the gaming club will only be for high school students.

West County School District Technology Director Cory Smith is working with other schools including Central, Farmington and Arcadia Valley, along with Mineral Area College, to set up a conference where they will work together to play games each season. Current plans are to focus on Rocket League, League of Legends and Overwatch.

Smith said players will be able to scrimmage each other online without having official eSports teams. Any high school student can participate in the gaming club as space permits. Once an official eSport team is created, there will be a tryout of some sort to create teams of six players.

The gaming club will be an ongoing activity. There is no definitive timeframe to start an eSports team because any official team would need to be board approved. A coach would also need to selected.

Smith said this idea of eSports across the conference evolved after a few area district technology directors came together. The idea was further supported by MAC.

Andy White is director of technology for Farmington. He was a gamer as a teenager and young adult. His oldest daughter and her friends are gamers as well as employees in his technology department.

“I can’t seem to get away from gaming, so why not embrace it?” he said.

White said he has been working and educating administration on the future of eSports, benefits of competitive gaming, organizing events, funding and coordinating with other districts to get the program started.

Currently there are two programs at Farmington High School that support eSports and competitive gaming. One is an eSports club sponsored by Jason Beffa, one of the tech employees. This club focuses on team-based computer games such as Overwatch, Rocket League and League of Legends. The other is a gaming club sponsored by another employee, Bobby Barnes. This club focuses on individual player games like Super Smash Bros., mostly on consoles.

For tryouts, White hopes MSSHAA will add eSports as an officially sanctioned sport in the near future.

“Until then,” he said, “it will remain a club and accept as many students that are willing to join.”

When it comes to competing against other schools, White said players will be put on teams which will provide them with the best chances of winning. Farmington could currently support several Overwatch teams.

“There is a push among many schools in Missouri to have MSHSAA-sanctioned sports,” said White. “Many exhibition tournaments have been and continue to be put on throughout the state.”

He noted that most recently a tournament in Columbia was organized for high school teams. Southeast Missouri State University is also organizing a tournament exhibition for area schools.

“The sport is quickly growing in popularity amongst universities and colleges and our schools need to be prepared for the requests of qualified and experienced gamers out of high school,” said White.

Central High School has an enrichment time for which students can sign up to participate if their classroom and grades are acceptable.

Chris Warden, technology director for Central, said a video game club started because of that, where students play Nintendo Switches, games on their Chromebooks, and other systems and games.

“eSports has been growing in popularity across the nation and, in particular, in Missouri,” said Warden. “The high school principal, Mr. Johnson, along with the club sponsor, our high school science teacher Kevin Pallo and technology department technician Matt Burgess, have been paying attention to eSports news and have expressed interest in doing more with the club.”

They were able to purchase some higher-end computers capable of running gaming graphics well. These computers have been placed in Pallo’s classroom for during-the-day classwork as well as for the club.

Warden’s role in eSports will be to help manage it and ensure Pallo and Burgess and any other staff members involved have the resources they need.

Central game club members are currently playing Minecraft and Overwatch.

“We are just now in the early stages of trying to work something out so that we are playing other school districts in the area,” said Warden.

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