“Esports officially stands for electronic sports, not to be confused with video games,” he said. “It’s much more than that. What sets it apart is the level of organized competitive gameplay between teams and its own strict set of rules and guidelines. Esports is about teamwork, communication, strategic thinking and leadership — in all the same ways that traditional sports are and then some.”
Players from around the world compete to earn cash, prizes and honors, and postsecondary institutions are also taking notice of esports, he continues.
“Colleges across the county are jumping on board with more than 200 universities offering millions in scholarships for esports,” Thompson said. “There are 10 colleges in Georgia alone that students can sign with to play esports and pay for school. Georgia is one of only five states in the country to offer state-sanctioned esports at the high school level.”
Esports is a fun activity students can enjoy. An important caveat is not all video games are deemed esports. Games must be team-based and cooperative, Thompson explains.
“Kids are already playing video games,” he said. “Now we can harness that in a positive way. Even kids that have never played can join. We will find a team or a role for them.”
An information meeting was held at the start of the third nine weeks in January.
“I was blown away when we had our first informational meeting, and more than 120 students showed up,” Holland said.
Response to the formation of a TCCHS esports team has been so positive the school created two sections, varsity and junior varsity. Auditions were held in late January.
“Tryouts are just to determine skill level for placement on JV or varsity,” Thompson said. “To make the team, students must have good behavior and maintain no more than two failing classes. The response has been overwhelming. We have 61 students on the team, one of the largest in the state.”
The team is open to all students, whether they are gamers or not, and specifically targets those who could use a positive motivator.
“The program has the multiprong intent to drive student participation from nontraditional athletes,” Thompson said. “Most of my kids are not ones who participate in traditional sports or clubs. This gives them something to be a part of. Studies show that students who participate in extra-curricular activities have higher GPAs, better attendance and better self-esteem.”
Participant Devon Green likes that esports allows nontraditional athletes to compete and plans to benefit from his participation by earning college scholarships.
“It gives me the chance to show people that video games are not just for fun; that they are competitive,” he said. “I grew up playing video games, and now I can use the skill for something else. I'm excited to be a part of the first esports [team] we have at our school. I feel that if we do good our first year, it will drive students into joining later and the school to invest more money into esports.”
Junior Jasmine Gibson, 16, joined the team to try something different that could also benefit her future.
“It has allowed me to meet new people and acquaint with people I don't usually see on a regular basis,” she said. “I am most excited about learning how to play games. I never really had an interest in the past, but it has been a teaching experience and a lot of fun. I think this will benefit me in the future when I begin to apply for college and being able to name this sport as something I did in high school.”
Team member Brandon Clark has been a gamer since he can remember – and beyond.
“I've always enjoyed gaming,” he said. “I love creating a strategy and finding an easier way to beat the level or game. My brother also loves playing video games, and so we always got together and played games and beat them together. Esports is allowing me to do that with other people. The aspect of getting a team together and building and learning with each other to be better as a team is awesome to me. I feel esports should be offered to students because it allows them to have that team building experience in a whole new way.”
A special field trip to Atlanta to watch the first Georgia High School Association Esports State Championship also motivated young players.
“The excitement they had after seeing where we want our program to go was amazing,” Holland said. “This is just another case of why Thomas County Central is second to none when it comes to helping our student-athletes be successful.”
Esports’ official season kicked off the week of Feb. 25. TCCHS will compete against other schools around the state by playing Rocket League, Smite and League of Legends. This gaming will commence each week in the school’s PREP Academy computer labs.
“The most important element is I want our esports athletes to have fun, make new friends, and learn skills that will make them better students, better people and better prepared for life,” Thompson said.