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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- Bentonville is one of numerous Arkansas school districts taking the plunge into online video games as a sanctioned high school activity.

The School Board voted 6-0 on Tuesday to establish esports programs at Bentonville High and West High schools following a presentation on the topic by school officials.

Esports is organized, competitive online gaming between individuals or teams. The Arkansas Activities Association approved esports as a new activity for the state in January. More than 100 schools in Arkansas started esports in the spring, said Bentonville athletic director Scott Passmore.

Other big districts in Northwest Arkansas -- including Springdale, Rogers and Fayetteville -- either have adopted or are preparing to adopt esports as well, Passmore said.

Arkansas schools participate in three games: League of Legends, Rocket League and Smite. Many colleges are fielding professional teams, according to School District officials.

Matthew Possehl, who will coach West High School's team, said esports opens up college scholarship opportunities for students.

Higher education institutions awarded $15 million in esports scholarships nationwide in 2018, with an average award of $4,800 per student -- nearly double what was awarded the previous year, Possehl said.

"Worldwide, this is a very, very popular thing," he said. "Because of that, there's a lot of money in it, and there tends to be a lot of trickle-down to colleges."

Students who want to participate in esports must abide by the same eligibility rules that apply to more traditional high school sports because it's sanctioned by the association, meaning they must keep their grades up to play, Possehl said.

"We think that students who don't normally or historically participate in school clubs or activities will be more inclined to do something like this," he said.

Some board members expressed disbelief at the idea of supporting students playing video games.

"I've seen it all now," board member Travis Riggs said when Possehl finished his presentation.

Joe Quinn, a board member, asked how esports meshes with the idea of trying to get kids to exercise and get outside more often. Possehl said esports won't interfere with the schools' physical education requirements.

"We're saying they're already playing these games in their free time, and they could do it together in a room and build teamwork and the ability to maybe get some college scholarships," Possehl said. "There's never a suggestion that this would replace any sort of athletic requirements in high school."

Esports teams of up to 15 players at each school would compete against other schools in the fall and spring, with state championships awarded each season.

There will be practically no cost to the district, Possehl said. Each player will be required to pay $50 for a uniform and a $64 fee to participate. Both high schools will use existing technology and space.

The district's technology department will use some of its budget to upgrade computer labs that not only will be used for esports, but for instructional purposes as well, said Thomas Rice, technology director.

Board member Willie Cowgur noted esports is showing up on television and it's "pretty big-time," he said.

"This is how kids socialize today, too," Cowgur said. "This is how my kid going into high school socializes with his friends. They get on their headsets and compete with each other."

Rezoning approved

Bentonville’s School Board voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of new attendance zones at the junior high school level to take effect for the 2020-21 school year in anticipation of the fourth junior high school opening. The zone for the fourth junior high will take up much of the south and southwest parts of the School District. Fulbright Junior High’s zone will cover the southeast portion. Lincoln Junior High’s zone will cover much of east and north Bentonville and east Bella Vista. Washington Junior High’s zone will cover northwest Bentonville and west Bella Vista.

Source: Staff report

NW News on 07/17/2019

Print Headline: Bentonville School District to offer esports teams

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