High School Sports

Millions of dollars are made playing video games. Could eSports be sanctioned by UIL?

Remember back in the day when your parents would tell you to stop playing video games and go outside?

Those days might be over, or are at least dwindling, given the fame and fortunes that many are enjoying thanks to the eSports craze sweeping the nation.

If the games “League of Legends,” “Fortnite,” and “Dota 2” don’t ring a bell with you, they almost certainly do with the younger crowd. For those that have driven by the eSports Stadium in Arlington on your way to watch the Rangers and Cowboys, these are the types of games that place was built for.

The world of competitive video gaming is growing as feverishly as the number of times you’ve already checked Instagram today. It’s growing so rapidly, in fact, that a few local high schools are offering it to their students.

“It really has taken off,” Colleyville Heritage principal Lance Groppel said. “It can be a multi-million dollar career for some. It’s really taking shape here. I’d say it’ll be a UIL sport sometime in the next 10 years.”

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Brian Gosset bgosset@star-telegram.com

For now it’s just being played at the club level with Heritage and Grapevine two of the few schools that offer it with a combined 75 students participating this semester.

So what are the chances the University Interscholastic League moves to make eSports a varsity sport?

“The UIL doesn’t sanction eSports, and doesn’t have any proposed rule changes related to eSports at this time,” UIL media coordinator Kate Hector said. “The UIL Legislative Council may consider a rule change proposal related to eSports at its next meeting in June.”

There are a couple of other schools in Texas that play, but most of them are either charter or private schools.

“I think in terms of the UIL, it’s still a few year away,” said Kyle Berger, Chief Technology Officer of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. “UIL might not want to get involved because eSports is a different beast. It’s a whole different aspect, but we still follow the same guidelines like making grades and keeping discipline. That’s one of the first things we told our kids.”

One of those kids is Heritage senior Ryan Wooley.

Wooley has been playing video games competitively since the sixth grade and started playing classics such as Pokemon and Super Mario when he was 6.

“I think this gives other kids the opportunity to do something they’re good at,” Wooley said. “Maybe you’re not good at football, but they are good at eSports. It’s awesome that we’re able to showcase this in front of the school and to be able to compete with other schools around the country.”

Wooley’s favorite game is League of Legends, which is one of the games played in the eSports league on Tuesdays. The other is Rocket League, which is played on Thursdays.

Since there aren’t too many Texas schools that play, Heritage and Grapevine play others from the Central time zone.

The league is eight weeks long from the end of February to mid-May.

“Since there’s no traveling involved with eSports, it makes it a lot easier for the kids,” Berger said. “You can practice from home, but usually the students will meet up and practice twice a week.”

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Brian Gosset bgosset@star-telegram.com

“My parents weren’t the biggest fans of me playing video games at first, but now that it’s a school event, they’re a bit more lenient,” Wooley said. “Now that they realized I can go to college on a scholarship, they say go for it and compete. They’re trying to learn it, but do come watch me and support me, and I really appreciate it.”

Yes, you read that correctly; you can get a scholarship to play video games in college.

According to Berger, 250 colleges offer eSports scholarships.

Wooley has been accepted to Texas Tech and Berger is in talks about getting him on their team.

“That’s a pretty huge deal,” Wooley said. “We have great athletes at Heritage that go to college for free. I hope to go and do the same, but whether it’s a full-ride or just some money, I get to play video games. It’s a super cool experience.”

Heritage’s team consists of students who do multiple school activities and those that only do eSports.

According to Berger, 65 percent of Heritage and Grapevine’s team consist of those that only play video games.

Wooley is part of the 35 percent. He played for Joe Willis and the football team the past three years. He was a captain on the junior varsity team as a junior and played limited snaps at receiver on the varsity team last season.

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Brian Gosset bgosset@star-telegram.com

“We have kids in the band, baseball and tennis that play,” Wooley said. “It’s a mixture of different people. It’s a hobby we like to do. We just come here and play.”

“It’s a great way to connect with our students and they excited and pumped,” Berger added.

The schools have partnered up with Dell to insure they have the right equipment.

“It’s up and coming,” Grapevine principal David Denning said. “I went to watch them one day and they were playing other students from Illinois. It’s awesome and starting to get more notice, and the partnership with Dell has been a big piece of it.”

Wooley and Berger said that eSports is like your traditional sports. There’s scouting and game planning involved to prepare for your opponent. Every game is also streamed online.

Berger said he wouldn’t be surprised if three times the students came out for next year’s group. He said they had to turn away 100 kids this semester because there wasn’t enough space.

So, who wants to go outside and play?

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Born and raised in Hawaii, Brian Gosset graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in journalism before coming to Texas in 2014. He’s covered high school sports — yes, pretty much every high school sport — for the Star-Telegram ever since.