Not even a year old, The Timpview Electronic Sports program is struggling to spread its wings and fly against the crosswinds. A big shift from the physical sports that high schools usually compete in, the Timpview ESports program is likely among the first of its kind to exist in the nation.
ESports beyond timpview
Since before the ESports program began, Timpview’s computer science teacher Mr. Bruce Gabbitas’ classroom has been a place where students could come together and play video games. When asked whether or not the school district was opposed to ESports, Gabbitas said, “Yeah… and then there are some people who, I don’t know if they’re opposed to it, but they’re skeptical just because they’re not very familiar … with all that ESports is nationally. It’s growing. There are tons of universities that have fully recognized programs in ESports that offer scholarships to ESports competitors and it’s a very legitimate form of like practice and competition, so there are some people who just aren’t aware that that kind of growth is happening.”
Gabbitas believes that Esports are legitimate competitions and are growing in recognition, yet so few people watch the ESports competitions. Gabitas says, “I think one of the barriers for spectator participation is being familiar with games and rules, so games like basketball, simple enough and affordable enough that everyone grows up at least being aware of it on the playground. But getting into games like League of Legends, understanding gameplay is important to enjoying spectatorship.”
Gabbitas says there’s a growing community of people playing in large video game events around the world. The ESports program’s greatest struggle isn’t from people trying to shut it down just because it’s a program centered around video games, but because it’s simply new, and people don’t know how to take sports and competition into this new setting.
One of the greatest helps to Timpview’s program is LANKing Gaming, a local gaming lounge that sponsors the league and helped students start the program. As described by Sophomore Ari Jensen, a student on Timpview’s varsity Overwatch team, “Last year … LANKing approached us and our multiple groups and said, ‘Hey, I know you guys all play video games, and we have a couple teams set up from other schools. Would you like to come and play against them?’ So obviously we wanted to, and after we worked with the school board and convinced them onto us, they said ‘yeah,’ and then that next season we orchestrated teams for Overwatch, and made a team for Smash Bros.”
Not only did they help set up the league, LANKing, a new business with its own problems, gave constantly to the students by carrying out competitions. Jensen says, “They gave us time to practice and free hours on their computers so we could just play on their really nice stuff, for free, and when it came to tournaments we didn’t really play for money for most of the season, but at the end of the season the winners got their ACT’s paid for, which is really nice. So it’s definitely a service because they’re doing it for almost nothing and just expecting us to bring in more customers for them, so it’s like a win-win, but they’re doing us a big deal.”
The ESports program owes a lot to LANKing, and likely wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t reached out to the students at Timpview, and helped them through it all. Though Timpview has done little more for the company than helping LANKing attract a little more attention, LANKing is greatly responsible for the ESport Teams’ survival, and plays a critical role in their continuation.
The Blossoming Social Environment
Though School ESports competitions only lasted a month, the program has continued to influence students by creating a common space where they can come together, talk, play, and practice. Gabbitas said, “It has formed a tight group of people who bond around a common thing. I’ve seen people getting to know each other, so it has created a social group that didn’t exist before and I think a lot have come out of it. I’ve seen friendships come out of it too.”
Many friendships and connections have grown from the ESports program, but it also created some hostile and toxic environments that at one point caused one of their central social media platforms to be suspended. Hostility and general negativity became such a problem that when the program resumed at the start of this year, the list of rules included, “Do not be toxic under any circumstance.”
“I’ve seen a little bit [of hostility], so that’s always gonna need to be an area of concern.” Gabbitas continues, “I think where the problem lies is that when we get behind a social media persona, everyone seems a little less personal, so sometimes I see comments and attitudes coming out that I don’t think are very helpful, so I think that will always be an area that we need to just watch and be our best selves in order to get the most out of the social group that is created by esports.”
The problem of students behaving poorly when separated by screens seems to be a common one, as Jenses says, “When we can all come together and play together, it’s just so much better than when we’re all online in our own separate places. … we can talk it out … because when people are online, there’s definitely a sense of separation … you definitely are less toxic with the people around you, because … you realize these are real people … [and not just] other voices.”
All in all, the ESports program sometimes brings out poor behavior in the students in the wrong circumstances. Gabbitas sums it up best, saying, “Any time you have a social group where people are friendly and share a common interest, that can be a good thing.” The program definitely has its head in the right place by maintaining a big focus on maintaining a kind and healthy social environment.
We’ll just have to watch where it goes next.