Arizona schools have their sights set on developing a new generation of athletes. Instead of hours of physical exertion, these athletes compete while seated, pressing buttons, and looking at a screen. They are competitive gamers who spend hours honing their craft in a field known as eSports. The Arizona Interscholastic Association recognized eSports as an official school activity in 2019, leading to eSports programs spreading throughout the state.
Although many Generation Xers and Millennials grew up playing video games, they never dreamed that their passion would one day become a professional sport. Within a couple of generations, the world of video gaming has undergone significant changes. Today, universities offer scholarships to top gamers and high schools across the US host eSports competitions.
Arizona schools have embraced the trend, placing it on par with traditional sports. Arizona sports fans can take advantage of Arizona sports betting to place wagers on their favorite teams, including their favorite eSports teams. Here we’ll take a look at eSports in Arizona’s high schools and universities.
What is eSports?
Given the widespread coverage of eSports and gaming in the media, you may have already heard the term eSports. However, you may not know exactly what it entails. eSports refers to competitive gaming at a professional level. Like athletes in traditional sports, the best eSports competitors are the best in the world at their game. These gamers are so good, they earn a living gaming full-time, much like professional athletes.
eSport gamers typically compete in teams against other professional gamers. Like professional football and basketball players, they are contracted by various organizations to play professionally. They train with their teams and compete in their respective game against other teams, just like athletes in other professional sports. Some of the most popular eSports games include Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Madden NFL.
eSports at Arizona High Schools
eSports’ presence in Arizona high schools has increased steadily since it was officially introduced as a team sport in Arizona schools in 2019. The Arizona Interscholastic Association has partnered with a gaming platform called PlayVS that organizes high school and college eSports leagues, becoming a new extracurricular activity for students across the state.
This year over 70 Arizona Interscholastic Association schools have an eSports program, a significant increase over last year when only 49 schools had an eSports program. As eSports becomes more popular, this number is expected to climb as schools throughout the state seek to develop competitive eSports programs.
Schools have found that eSports programs provide a competitive outlet for students lacking the skill or talent to compete in traditional athletic programs such as volleyball, basketball, and football. Students can connect with groups who share similar interests and become more connected to campus life.
Much like basketball players have the school gymnasium and football players have a stadium, many schools have dedicated eSports arenas where their e-athletes compete virtually against teams from across the state. The Arizona Interscholastic Association has approved seven games for eSports competitions in Arizona schools, including:
- Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- FIFA 21
- Madden 21
- League of Legends
- Splatoon 2
- Rocket League
The Arizona Interscholastic Association holds state championships for eSports at the end of the season, just like with traditional sports. The Arizona Interscholastic Association places the top teams from each video game into a bracket, and they compete for the title of best in the state. With colleges across the country offering scholarships to the top e-athletes, competition is fierce at the high school level.
eSports at the College Level
Not wanting to miss out on the billion-dollar industry, Arizona’s colleges are also getting in on the eSports action, with the University of Arizona leading the way. The university launched the state’s first Public University Team for Competitive Video Gaming in 2021 and has plans to build on the enthusiasm surrounding eSports on campus to compete at the national level.
Arizona’s other major public universities—Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University—also have clubs and associations dedicated to eSports. Arizona State has competed competitively at the collegiate level, bringing home multiple titles to the school. Northern Arizona University also has an eSports club where students come together to play competitively. Given the enthusiasm for eSports in Arizona, the future is bright for e-athletes statewide.