Esports is the fastest growing sport in the world. High school esports in the state were officially established five years ago. What started as seven member schools quickly grew into 105 participating schools. Around 5,000 students have taken part in games offered like Rocket League, Overwatch and Super Smash Bros.
“I’m receiving more and more interest every single week about schools that are trying to get involved asking how to establish programs,” said Mike Dahle, President of Wisconsin High School Esports Association (WIHSEA).
But it should come as no surprise that esports, as all sports, suffers from inaccessibility. Players need functioning equipment, software and access to decent internet. It’s not the same as, say, soccer, where all you truly need is a ball.
So it was like a slap in the face to many when Riot Games signed an exclusivity deal with PlayerVS that forced many schools to cut games. One major game affected was League of Legends.
Before the deal, 110 teams were competing in that title alone. But things changed dramatically when the deal was signed. A season with the game couldn’t be run, a state championship couldn’t be held, a playoff couldn’t be hosted, it couldn’t be called varsity, competition had to be limited to 14 days and only 16 teams could participate, according to Dahle.
“We thought that that was extremely restrictive and did a disservice for students, so we decided to go ahead and remove League of Legends from our offerings at the state,” said Dahle. “They completely decimated the title.”
Eli Lehman on the Madison College esports team experienced the cut during his senior year of high school.
“It really cuts you down, ’cause I remember, we were getting ready for our season and then next thing you know? That all happens and…We just couldn’t play anymore,” said Lehman.
But things are starting to look up for WIHSEA. After hearing the cries from the people, Hoard games started changing what they said. Essentially, games like Fortnite and Rocket League will stay accessible.
“I think just overall everybody has a sigh of relief. We were hoping that our voices would be heard and I think it’s it’s a sense of victory that we are being heard,” said Dahle.
While Rocket League might never be as popular as it was pre-exclusivity deal, esports in the state will continue to grow. For some of the smaller towns, it gives kids an afterschool activity since some games only need three or four players. This helps with after school activities, especially where the student population is so low that there aren’t enough kids to compete in sports like soccer or football.
Plus, esports creates a community for kids.
“Esports tends to represent just about everybody,” said Dahle.
Esports will follow along with concerns of accessibility, just like with every other sport. But at least some comfort can be found in some companies standing against exclusivity.
“It’s going to turn into a big thing someday. I don’t know how big but it’s gonna be like regular sports someday,” said Lehman. “I nearly promise you that.”