Sep. 4—ALBANY — In Esports lore, the first competition, in 1972 at Stanford University, drew five participants, with the winner receiving a "Rolling Stone" magazine subscription.
Fast forward five decades and gaming has become a phenomenon that draws millions of players and fans around the world, and where top professionals can make high five-figures in prize money in a year.
This school year, Dougherty High School will be the first in the public school system to participate in the program. Georgia High School Association regional and state events include play in the games League of Legends, Rocket League, Splatoon, Super Smash Bros. Mario Kart, Madden NFL 22 and Hearthstone.
The Dougherty County School System also has initiated computer coding instruction in its four middle schools this year.
Dougherty High will be the first in the system to begin competition in events starting in the spring of 2023, said Khadijah Ali, who serves as athletics director, head girls basketball coach and administrative manager at the school.
"I'm excited to implement Esports into our athletics program here at Dougherty High," said Ali, who also is director of athletics for Esports. "We are the first school in our district to implement an Esports program, and my hope is that it takes off from here, not only in Dougherty County, but throughout the region."
Any student with a passion for gaming is a good candidate to try out, Ali said, and like sports played with balls and athletic uniforms, gaming requires some of the same attributes. Those include commitment, practice and being coachable.
"Talent is a plus," she said. "You need to be a team player, and you need good communication skills. It definitely helps if you have knowledge of the game you're playing, but most importantly you have to be willing to learn and get better individually and as a team.
"The Esports program creates a new and unique opportunity for every student to represent our school, specifically, students that don't normally participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports or other competitive clubs/organizations. I am super excited to see those students step out of their comfort zone and represent Dougherty High this spring."
Participating in Esports can give students a sense of belonging in the school community through their involvement, she said, and much of the interest so far has been from students who don't play sports and aren't involved in other school clubs or groups.
"Esports has given them a connection to the school and a new sense of pride," Ali said. "Additionally, colleges and universities are offering millions of dollars in Esports scholarships, and that number is growing as more and more schools sign up and add Esports to their athletic programs."
More than that, players will gain in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and soft skills like collaboration, problem-solving and time-management, she said.
"Besides the STEM benefits of Esports, SEL benefits include students developing and valuing relevant social skills," Ali said. "Among these are key SEL (social emotional learning) skills, like perseverance, team building, and even critical thinking. In addition to helping them in a team setting, these skills can also help them in the classroom. Plus, seeing this connection can help make Esports even more appealing to many students and potentially drive the growth of school programs."
And for those who excel and make it to the big time, there's always the chance to make $50,000 or more playing a videogame.