As esports gain popularity across the country, students at Powell High School are at the forefront of the growing trend.
PHS science teacher Tyler Thompson launched the school’s esports team in 2018, and earlier this year the Panthers won their first trophy, taking second place in a tournament sponsored by the High School Esports League.
The fall season is currently underway, and the expectations for team members are similar to those for a more traditional school sport. Thompson said his players have to practice four times a week, for about an hour per session, and that he has to make sure new recruits understand the commitment that’s required.
“It’s not just playing a video game,” he said. “It is actually a sport, there is practice involved, there’s all these different strategies that you have to do. You have to commit quite a bit of time to make sure that you’re actually competitive.”
The HSEL’s Fall Major tournament provides an 8-week regular season and the option to compete in 12 games, including Minecraft, Madden 21, Rocket League and Call of Duty.
Senior Colby Bruno was part of the two-person Powell team that came in second during HSEL’s Spring Major Tournament, while playing Call of Duty, and said he grew up gaming with his older brothers.
The difference in playing on a school team, he said, is the level of friendship and teamwork. “You can play with your brothers but it’s just all for fun,” he said. “With a team you get to play competitively. You get to practice, you get to really help each other get better and see each other improve overall. And then eventually you can play in tournaments, win money and even make it your career if you take it that seriously.”
Esports aren’t just for high schools. Many universities now offer club teams, including the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Thompson said the HSEL offers a $1,000 college scholarship to students who win their championships, and speculated that colleges may one day offer full scholarships for esports, in the same way that they do for traditional sports.
Brien Tolson, a senior at Powell, said he plans to attend UT and major in biology, while continuing to play video games on the side.
As a team captain, Tolson said esports has helped him develop leadership skills and patience when things don’t go well immediately.
“I have to make sure I don’t get frustrated, because we’re all learning together,” he said.
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes the blog Hall Pass for the KCS website.