Esports keeps growing and benefiting students

Concentration, excitement and camaraderie mix in what, after four years, has become one of the most popular extracurricular student activities in Dallas ISD: esports.

Student Activities wanted to launch a pilot of the activity in 2019 with 20 campuses, but when the department asked secondary schools if they would be interested, the response was overwhelmingly positive—62 campuses wanted to participate. The new extracurricular activity launched at those campuses with 800 students in sixth through 12th grades participating in district tournaments that year. 

“We got such a great response, and then we had to look at the budget because we hadn’t budgeted for so many schools,” said Angie Nuno, manager in Student Activities over the esports program. “We did our best to provide the necessary equipment to get them started.”

This year, more than 2,000 students in 94 secondary schools and almost 1,400 in 117 elementary schools have participated in the five tournaments hosted by Student Activities during the school year. These numbers don’t include all the students who participate in esports at the school level; tournament participation is capped due to limited space and resources. 

“Extracurricular activities help students develop the many skills that allow them to be successful in academics and life,” Sharla Hudspeth, executive director of Extracurricular and Extended Learning. “We are excited that schools and students have so enthusiastically embraced esports because we want to offer options that give all students an opportunity to participate in something they are passionate about.”

Last year, esports opened to fourth- and fifth-grade students at the elementary level, Nuno said. At the elementary level, students compete in Smash, Mario Kart and Rocket League. The same games are available at the secondary level in addition to Fornite. 

Student Activities also provides equipment such as Nintendo switches, games, gaming laptops, webcams, microphones and green screens because esports is not just about competing, Nuno said. It also allows students to gain skills in casting, broadcasting and other areas of online gaming. 

Schools that want to offer esports start with a parent meeting to make them aware of what it entails and dispel any misconceptions about online gaming, Nuno said. Even though esports is not a UIL activity, the district follows the same participation requirements about attendance and grades. 

“Parents are very supportive, and it’s one of the activities where we have the most parents coming to see their kids compete,” she said.  

As the popularity of esports grows, the department is looking at establishing a district league. Growing the activity benefits students, especially those who might not participate in UIL activities, such as traditional sports, she said.

“Esports is all about communication, team collaboration, and strategic planning because you need to have a clear plan in everything you do. It also develops leadership skills, discipline, sportsmanship, and respect, a lot of core values that are essential in life,” Nuno said. “Students gain motivation and skills that can lead to new career paths like game design, coding, and communications.”

Nuno has also seen esports be inclusive in ways other activities might not be for students who have movement limitations and who don’t have a command of English but do speak the language of gaming.

As more colleges and universities, like the University of North Texas, offer the sport and scholarships, they are recruiting Dallas ISD students. 

“Esports makes a difference in students’ lives,” Nuno said. “A couple of years ago a coach shared with me that one of the students who skipped class all the time wanted to be in the esports team. Because attendance is a requirement, he started coming to class. It changed him for the better.”


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