Over the past few years, electronic sports (eSports) — where kids and adults play specifically selected video games against other players — have taken the world by storm.
In fact, industry insiders estimate the number of eSports players around the world will hit 650 million by the end of 2025.
If you or your kids are interested in trying eSports or joining an eSports league, the good news is you don’t have to travel far as the City of Denton Parks & Recreation Department recently opened an eSports Lab and offers eSports Leagues at Denia Recreation Center. And Denton ISD offers a robust eSports program at many of its high schools and middle schools, with even elementary schools starting to participate.
Earlier this year, the City of Denton’s Park and Recreation Department officially opened its new eSports Lounge at Denia Recreation Center.
“We were looking for new, innovative ways to think outside the box,” explains Athletics Supervisor Rachael Burks when asked about why they decided to start offering eSports. “Obviously in athletics, we offer a lot of traditional sports, so this is something non-traditional that we offer. And just (to) offer something new where people of all ages can come, socialize, and do something different here in Denton.”
Burks says the eSports Lab features 10 gaming computers, which offer a variety of games to play. They also recently purchased a Nintendo Switch for the Lab for a Super Smash Bros. Tournament.
The eSports Lab does require a fee, however, there are different options to choose from. “If they just want to try it out and they never maybe played before, maybe they don’t have access at home, they could come in and just buy an hour’s worth of time, try it out, and see if they like it,” Burks says. “Or if it’s someone that maybe enjoys playing, but maybe don’t have access at home or they can’t do it, or maybe they just want to come in and socialize, then they could get a month, three months or even a year (pass) if they wanted to upfront.”
Denton Parks and Rec has also launched some eSports Leagues in conjunction with the Lab. Currently, the Leagues play Rocket League, Valorant, or Overwatch. The Youth League is for players between the ages of 7 to 16, and the Adult League is for all players ages 17 and up.
For the Lab and Leagues, Burks says they have partnered with DFW eSports to assist them. “They’re experts – they know what the kids and even adults are wanting,” she adds.
Burks says DFW eSports will be providing coordinators to teach and coach the Leagues in conjunction with athletic coordinators from Parks and Rec.
And Parks and Rec also holds eSports Tournaments throughout the year geared towards ages 12 and up. They will be offering a Valorant Tournament on October 14th, Rocket League 2V2 Tournament on November 11th, and Overwatch Tournament on December 9th.
For any kids or adults considering trying out eSports, Burks encourages them to come down to the eSports Lab to give it a try. “They’re for everyone,” she continues. “Before we got started with this program and wanting to offer this, I had never really played myself. And so I’ve played a few times and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve played with people that are beginners and I’ve played with people that play all the time. And so I think it’s just fun for all ages, all groups, and really all levels.”
The City of Denton Parks and Recreation’s eSports Lab is located inside Denia Recreation Center, at 1001 Parvin Street in Denton. The eSports Lab is open whenever Denia Recreation Center is open. Click here for more information on Lab fees and League and Tournament schedules.
More Than Just Playing Video Games
About three years ago, Denton ISD started an eSports program for its schools, says Dr. Joshua Tabor, digital learning specialist and district eSports lead. “Our CTE director had written a grant and had some available computers, Guyer High School was looking to start an eSports program at the time, and everything kind of fell into place just perfectly and they were able to get rolling,” he recalls.
According to Dr. Tabor, Denton ISD now offers eSports at five high schools — Denton High, Ryan, Guyer, Braswell, and LaGrone Academy — as well as Myers, Harpool, Rodriguez, and Strickland Middle Schools, and Pecan Creek Elementary.
Dr. Tabor says they plan to grow the program to any elementary schools with fourth and fifth graders who would like to participate. “There’s eSports for Minecraft in addition to a number of other games and of course, Minecraft is a wonderful tool for all kids, but especially elementary kids,” he adds.
As the first school to embrace eSports, Dr. Tabor says Guyer High School has led the charge and has had a lot of success, including winning state championships two years in a row and coming in fourth in nationals last year.
“The other high schools are still getting their programs up and running,” Dr. Tabor explains. “Part of the difficulty in eSports is having the proper devices to play. The district saw that and took steps in our last bond package and so now all of the high schools are going to get a gaming lounge. That’s really going to open up a pathway for all of our other high schools to get in. And that’s kind of the fun here in the district too — all the schools are competitive, not only with out-of-district opponents, but there’s that friendly rivalry in the district as well. So they’re seeing Guyer’s success and they all want to get after that, too.”
Dr. Tabor says one of the great things about eSports is it’s welcoming to all. “You don’t have to be great at it — this is not like a traditional sport where you have to be a good basketball player or softball player,” he continues. “This is definitely an area where you can come in, you can try it, you can learn. We’re really wanting these programs to be a way for students to connect.”
Plus eSports are not just for video gamers, Dr. Tabor says, as students can learn the other side of the profession, which is a growing industry. “Let’s say you watch the Cowboys game this weekend,” he details. “Yes, you’re watching the players, but you also listen to commentators, you see graphics as the game evolves. The same thing is happening in eSports. As these groups are forming, not only are we bringing in kids that play, but we’re bringing in kids that also have an interest in being those commentators, which we call shoutcasters, or being those kids that want to do the background stuff. And so there’s a lot of learning to be done there as well in a rapidly growing profession.”
Dr. Tabor encourages any students interested in eSports to come out, meet the coaches, ask questions, and see what it’s all about. And he also tells parents to do the same.
“Being somebody that grew up in the old Nintendo era, it’s like who would have ever thought that playing video games would be a thing, at least in a professional standard?” he continues. “But students can now actually earn college scholarships not just as players, but also as content creators. So I would encourage parents to look into that because it’s maybe a path that their student can earn some money for college, doing something that they’re probably already doing at home.”
Click here for more information on Denton ISD’s eSports program.