Classroom takes kids into the world of competitive video games

SUAMICO, Wis. (WBAY) - Students at Bay Port High School recently took the wraps -- literally, the bubble wrap -- off new computer equipment for a school club that lets students play video games competitively.

In a fast-paced world, this seems to fit for many teenagers: quick hands, quick thinking, and quick words of encouragement.

But this setting for the video game experience -- a classroom at Bay Port High School -- is something new for students.

"I got to meet a lot of new people from this club that I never would have or expected to," Bay Port senior Brandon Splawski, a member of the eSports club, said.

The school's new eSports club was organized by Brandon and business ed. teacher Lucas Richards.

"I saw the poster (for forming a club) and saw Mr. Richards on the bottom, and I thought, I have to help him out with this," Brandon said.

At their first meeting in October, Richards says it was standing room only.

"Way more than we could expect," Richards said.

Now, about 40 students show up on a regular basis to practice their skills -- some even competing this year, making it all the way to the playoffs.

"It was intimidating at first, but over time the guys we played against were nice overall," Bay Port junior and eSports club member Hunter Garceau said.

"Unfortunately we lost in the first round, but the fact is we just started but were able to get going and we made the playoffs," Richards said, "so there was obviously a need and a niche we could fill here."

That niche is fueled by the ever-growing video game industry, which now hosts large tournaments throughout the nation where winners take home millions of dollars.

"eSports can pack arenas," Richards said. "Ten thousand, 20,000 to watch two teams play competitively League of Legends."

It's becoming such big business, even NBA teams like the Milwaukee Bucks are getting involved. The Bucks recently hired six video game players -- officially Bucks employees with salaries in the low to mid $30,000s -- for the NBA 2K League sponsored by the NBA.

"People that have millions of dollars charter eSports teams now, because if they have a good team they win a $10.2 million prize. They can make a lot of money," Richards said.

But for the students at Bay Port, it's not about the money or the large arenas or just mindless fun.

"It's games like this you can put a lot of depth into it. It's not just mashing buttons or anything like that," Hunter said.

It's about teamwork, building resumes for the future, and inclusion, giving students a chance to be a part of a team.

"i thought eSports would be a good place to start that and take my leadership to the next level," Brandon said.

Which is why a $10,000 grant from the Howard-Suamico Education Foundation to purchase more equipment for all students is such a huge win.

"When I told the group, they were like, 'They are giving us that money, really?' and they've never felt that way before," Lucas said, "and that was really cool to see that realization, that, 'Wow, OK. I never played football, or done the play stuff or typical thing, and now they are still supporting me.' So that was really cool."

And Richards hopes other schools join the game, because for him it's bigger than simply playing video games.

"Maybe it's not going to be my career, I'm not going to be a professional eSports person, but if it is one of those things to get them part of the school community and they see that starting here, then hopefully they can say 'Hey, Teacher X or Teacher Y, what about this, can we start that?'"

eSports is becoming so popular that tournaments are even starting to pop up in our area.

In just a few weeks, teams will take over the Weidner Center in Green Bay for "Brawl by the Bay," inviting all teams to compete for some big prizes.

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