Kenai Peninsula schools could soon form esports teams

Students in Kenai Peninsula schools could soon be forming esports teams.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District activities board considered officially sanctioning esports back in November, but decided to approve club-level teams.

District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said the decision to approve club-level video game — or esports — teams came after the Electronic Gaming Federation approached the district about joining a statewide league.

“So that began the whole conversation about the district and potentially any schools or principals (being) involved in the league,” she explained.

The Electronic Gaming Federation sets up both college and high school level esports leagues around the country. Teams compete in video games such as Overwatch and League of Legends.

Erkeneff said that no schools within the district have expressed interest in forming an esports team quite yet, and that was part of the reason the district strayed from officially sanctioning the activity.

“Due to possible budgetary costs and the cuts that might be coming, we decided to keep it at a sport or club activity level,” Erkeneff added.

The approval of club-level status allows schools within the district to use one of a set number of stipends to pay someone to coach and organize a club-level team. Teams could then compete against other clubs in the state, but those matchups would have to be organized by the individual clubs because there is currently no statewide structure for esports teams.

Alaska Schools Activities Association Executive Director Billy Strickland said that could soon change. The ASAA organizes statewide high school sports and activities. Strickland said the ASAA board will consider sanctioning esports in February.

“Sanctioning sets it up for potential state championship competition, if you will, and just some of those things,” Strickland explained. “Kids can now letter in an activity, per se, depending on how the school deals with those types of things.”

Students participating in esports would then need to meet the same grade and attendance requirements other student athletes do.

Strickland said there are club-level teams currently in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Dillingham that could help start a statewide league. He added that other districts and schools have expressed interest in forming teams as well.

“Homer could be playing Barrow in a competition that doesn’t involve any travel and travel expense and time out of school. I think that’s pretty enticing to schools,” Strickland said. “Also, we feel like this is an opportunity to engage some students and connect them to the school that may not be already participating in something as a school member.”

However, Strickland explains there are some concerns about the number of hours students would spend in front of a computer screen and the types of games they may be playing.

“Particularly anything that involves a first-person shooter game, just because the message that would be sending students,” he said. “But again, some of these games are really the electronic version of chess and involve a lot of high-level thinking skills and are very good for students.”

Both the Electronic Gaming Federation and a similar organization named PlayVS will give presentations to ASAA board members in February.

If the board does move forward with sanctioning esports, Strickland said the ASAA would likely work with one of the organizations to set up a statewide high school league.

However, he doesn’t expect the board to come to a decision until its April meeting.

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