With Most High School Sports Sidelined, Esports Is Having a Moment in the Spotlight
- As school gets back in session, the pandemic has limited the number of available extracurricular activities
- PlayVS, which helps schools compete in esports leagues, expects participation this year to double or triple, due at least in part to COVID
- Not all schools view esports the same way, and many are still considering the pros and cons
Under normal circumstances, going back to school is not just the start of a new academic year, but the renewal of extracurricular activities, whether on the debate stage or under the Friday night lights. This year, however, the pandemic has made gridiron glory and other activities nearly impossible. Could that lead to a banner year for high school esports?
Santa Monica-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”), which provides the technological and organizational infrastructure for high school esports leagues, thinks so.
“We’re expecting 2-3 times the number of students that competed last year,” said Clint Kennedy, PlayVS’ director of education. “I think COVID is a chief driver.”
A COVID Boost
Kennedy said 90% of U.S. high schools with a football program already use PlayVS or are on the waiting list. The company has an exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the main governing body of American high school sports. The relationship effectively turns esports via PlayVS into a fully fledged varsity sport at participating schools.
Founded in early 2018, PlayVS employs 46 people and has raised $96 million. In addition to having relationships with key educational institutions, it also has partnerships with major game publishers such as Riot and Epic Games.
Competing schools pay $63 per participating student. To accommodate increased demand the company will be rolling out a tiered pricing model this school year, including free scrimmage-only play on one end and a premium level at the other that allows schools to sign up more students.
“Schools are saying ‘our teams are growing,'” said Kennedy, “so we’ve added this other layer to accommodate that growth.”
Allen Whitten, principal at Sunny Hills High School, which has won two straight California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) esports state championships, said esports is “the one thing we haven’t had to cancel, because they can do it from home.” His school’s esports coaches, Myra Deister and Sonya Joyce, expect student participation this year to double.
A spokesperson from L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) said, “we expect interest in this extracurricular activity to expand during the pandemic.”
Kennedy added that when COVID arrived this past spring, PlayVS “saw an uptick in our overall registrants” and that he has since seen increased interest from school administrators.
“Esports is in a unique spot to provide opportunities in a pandemic world,” he said.
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Image Caption: PlayVS employs has key relationships with educational institutions as well as partnerships with major game publishers including Riot and Epic. Image from PlayVS