Esports competition has been taking place since the 1980s, but in the past decade the development of scholastic esports at the collegiate and high school levels has been rampant.
Why should high schools all across the country and the world invest into the world of esports for their students? I can put it plain and simple for you, through high school esports I have developed skills in communication, online presence, and business management while being able to do what I love–play video games.
Here’s my journey in getting started in the world of esports through my high school, developing skills in and outside of the game, and earning a Division 1 scholarship to continue my education and compete in esports at Oklahoma University and my tips on how to get students to the collegiate esports level.
Part 1: How I got my beginnings in high school esports
I grew up playing video games for the majority of my childhood. Gaming started with my dad playing Halo: Combat Evolved and letting me split-screen with him. My first “big” competition was beating my dad, and once I started beating him in the game, he gave me the reins to the Xbox. I never took gaming seriously while I was growing up; it was just something that I enjoyed doing. My parents put me in almost every traditional sport under the sun, but I could never find one that I was good at and/or enjoyed doing.
When high school came around, I joined the cross country team. I remember hearing about the esports team at my school and being too embarrassed to even think about joining my freshman year. However, when my junior year rolled around, I injured myself while running.
I was left with no involvement and now no team, and I constantly desired some sort of competition in my life while all I could do was sit around.
The same week as my injury was ironically also the same week that my school had the club fair. I lowered my ego and finally joined the esports team after two years of high school. My esports career instantly took off after joining the team, and I found so much success in a short time. I was put in the position to lead the team and had to pick up and develop skills such as planning, decision making and prioritization, and how to build a self-sufficient team which are all important skills every student should work on.
The majority of people hear the word “esports” and just think of a stigma of kids playing video games with no structure and strictly just for fun. Many people don’t think of all the work that goes into making a successful team. There is structured practice, film review, and strategy meetings during practice and before matches. Developing esports teams is similar to any traditional sports team. Students have to be able to keep a positive attitude, manage emotions, and be able to critique themselves and others constructively.
While using these leadership and personal skills as a player and leader, I rose up the national rankings and finished my first ever high school Call of Duty season with a 9-2 record and ranked 6th nationally. Not too long after, the collegiate offers began to pour in.
Part 2: The collegiate esports recruitment process
The recruitment process was one of the most interesting and challenging points for me so far in my life. I had big and small universities reaching out to me, while I was also reaching out to small and big universities that I was interested in attending. I remember there was a point where I was taking a phone call almost every single day.
Video games went from a pastime to a full-time job in a way. I had to learn how to present myself in person, in conversation, and on social media so that I was attractive to college coaches. Having a good online presence is often overlooked in the gaming space by young people. However, it is of the utmost importance that students learn how to maintain a good presence early.
Being a good teammate, having a good attitude, and treating others the right way whether it is through a screen or in person is something that I believe high school esports offers and teaches to students pursuing esports. Those skills are also heavily looked at when schools begin to recruit students to come play for them.
Esports recruitment is a mix of reaching out and putting yourself out there into the space. The tool I found most useful at the time was Twitter. I made an account for myself and for my school's esports team. I used both to promote myself and what my team was doing and to reach out to collegiate coaches. Esports is still very new to the collegiate space so there is a mix of opportunities and ways that you can be recruited. I’ve found that some coaches like you to message them to start a conversation and some prefer to see what you can do and then they’ll reach out to you.
When I was in the recruiting process, I had to find out what I was looking for and then apply my goals to my offers. My three requirements were great facilities, experienced coaches, and opportunities past just competition in the esports scene. I wanted to be able to develop skills at a university that could earn me a job in the real world. Broadcasting, social media production, and marketing were just some of the skills that university esports programs can offer.
I eventually got my list of schools down to a small list, and I began to take in-person visits to schools to see what their programs were all about. A lot of the schools were really impressive and gave me a good run for my money, but the one university that really stuck out to me was Oklahoma University.
I felt comfortable and welcomed by the campus, the coaches were great, and the program had so many opportunities for me. I remember walking out of my conversation with the program excited and wanting more. Shortly after my visit at Oklahoma University, I decided to give my intent to the program before the end of my junior year.
I would eventually make my commitment to the university official and even held my very own signing day at my high school.
Changing the stigma of esports rests in the hands of the students and esports coaches of today. As a community, we must continue to challenge what is seen as irregular and turn it into normal. Everyone always looked at me funny when I told them I competed in esports for my high school, but when the college offers began to pour in, people began to step back and give esports a second look.
I hope by informing other students and coaches how to get where I am today, I can help make collegiate esports and esports signing days much more common in the educational space.
Part 3: My tips to students seeking collegiate opportunities
Clear up all your social media profiles of any controversial or toxic posts, likes, and interactions.
Create a Twitter account with a nice profile picture of yourself, a descriptive bio of what you do/role is, and begin to follow and interact with people in the collegiate esports space. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be involved and get connections in the esports space.
Capture footage of your best highlights and have it ready to go at any moment so that you can share what your potential is to coaches.
Create a list of ideas you want for a university you attend for both education and esports. Focus on finding schools that offer your major, and then look at the esports factors such as facilities, coaches, and opportunities. Apply this list to every offer you receive so you can pick the perfect school.
Reach out to coaches through Twitter, Discord, and email and provide them information about yourself. Coaches appreciate when you take action to reach out to them and they also very much appreciate concise and professional communication.
Here is an example of an email I used:
Dear Coach NAME,
My name is NAME. I am a GRADUATING CLASS student-athlete, and I am currently playing ESPORT TITLE. I am attending SCHOOL NAME and so far this season, INSERT SEASON INDIVIDUAL STATS FOR YOUR GAME.
I am beginning to look into my college options, and I am very interested and intrigued by the COLLEGE esports program. To be able to be a part of your esports program would be a dream come true for me! COLLEGE offers everything I'm currently looking for which includes WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR AT COLLEGIATE LEVEL.
I would love for you to have a look at how I play. My school esports twitch account that has match VODs is INSERT, and my personal twitch account is INSERT where I regularly livestream and highlight gameplays. I have also attached my transcript so you can see what type of student I am.
I'd love to have a conversation with you about a future at COLLEGE, and I believe I have the ability to be a part of your team and contribute great amounts of help.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Take the high road in video games. If someone is being toxic in game chat and their communication is of no good use to you then just mute them. Do not interact with toxicity in video games.
Be the best teammate you can be. Learn how to properly communicate, play selflessly, and how to respectfully critique your teammates.
Watch back footage of yourself. Look for common tendencies and mistakes and work on improving them. You have to be your hardest critic, and you have to almost be obsessed with being perfect to reach the next level of competition.
Part 4: Conclusion
College isn’t always an option for students, and I hope by providing all the information I have I can get students to the collegiate level on scholarship through esports. Not every student is gifted with athletic ability and for there to be more options for students to do what they love while being able to pursue a degree is amazing.
Esports is constantly growing and shifting, and the collegiate level is one of the next big parts of the space. Now is the time to begin to change the esports stigma and get more and more students involved, more students signing, and more students to the collegiate level.
Don’t be late to the party, get involved in high school and collegiate esports now!