Online, multiplayer video games like League of Legends, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate, have offered teens a way to relax, have fun, and bond with friends – benefits that have even greater significance with the social restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, these games are more than just a casual meet-up between friends for the IPA Navigators – they are part of the new varsity esports program in the ISLAND PACIFIC ACADEMY Athletics department.
“I was happy to include esports as an offering within our athletic department because we want to offer as many opportunities to participate and be part of a team to as many people as we can,” shared Greg Terhune, Director of Athletics. “Esports is a way to reach another group of people who may not be into traditional physical sports.”
For its inaugural season, IPA is participating in the spring season of Super Smash Bros Ultimate, with the possibility of expanding to other games as the program grows. IPA has two teams competing – IPA Blue and IPA Silver – coached by Melanie Erice, Secondary English teacher, and lifelong gamer. Virtual matches are held weekly against other private and public high schools from several leagues in the state. IPA has partnered with PlayVS, an online platform that manages the scheduling, matchups, stats, and software.
The Navigators have been honing their skills and team strategy through practices twice a week and during their pre-season matches. They competed against Hilo High School and Roosevelt High School in their first regular season match on Wednesday, February 23, racking up a win to start the season 1-0. They’ll be facing ‘Iolani and Calvary Chapel Christian School in their second match next week.
The image of the lone video gamer and notion of video games as a negative distraction are falling by the wayside as esports programs take off in high schools and colleges. Competitive online gaming offers some of the same benefits of a traditional athletic team, with players working together to devise strategies and practice their skills to develop their individual strengths in order to win as a team.
”Esports is very interesting and is like other sports because you have to train your tactics, your habits, just like you would in a real sport,” shares Dason Lee ‘23. “While it might not necessarily be physical training it is still a mental exercise that is very complicated, especially with fighting games that have a lot of nuance. I like the ability to keep improving on your craft – playing well is a combination of mastery and creativity and being a jack-of-all-trades.”
There are additional myriad benefits for students who participate in esports that lead to positive educational outcomes, including greater interest in STEM fields, real-world learning about data analytics and statistics, and explorations in coding. These can lead to pathways toward college scholarships and career opportunities in the developing tech and gaming industries. The National Association of Collegiate Esports estimates that more than 170 U.S. colleges have esports programs offering around $16 million per year in scholarships.
Esports also provides an environment in which important life skills and a sense of community can flourish. Student-athletes develop confidence as they form friendships and earn respect from their peers; they strengthen their communication and interpersonal skills in the team setting; and they develop a sense of discipline and resilience as they practice problem-solving and strategic thinking. And it all happens while they are having fun together.
“Even though Smash is a single player game, we develop social skills since we tend to practice a lot with each other,” shares Lee. “We learn each other’s habits – our play styles – and we are able to improve off of that because as we play with each other, we take in information about other person that they might not be able to see themselves. So this helps us to learn to be aware of ourselves and be aware of what we can improve on.”
“Our students are amazing and so adaptable,” shares Coach Erice. “Since this is our first year piloting this program, there is so much to learn. The students are so helpful to each other, quick to provide tips and help when one of them might be struggling with a character or a map. I’m happy to encourage students who want to pursue this style of competition.”