The Virginia High School League (VHSL) recently announced its newest competitive after-school activity: esports. Partnering with PlayVS, VHSL is helping bring esports to high schools across Virginia in a pilot program starting this fall. Students will get to play League of Legends, Smite and Rocket League in an organized league with playoffs and a state championship.
Darrell Wilson is the main point of contact for VHSL esports. He is working closely with PlayVS and Virginia school administrators to introduce and maintain the pilot program.
Me: So before we talk about esports, what is your general role within VHSL?
Darrell: I am the Assistant Director of Academic Activities, which means I help handle everything outside of athletics. Some examples are theatre, robotics, scholastic bowl, debate, film and creative writing. Esports will now fall under that category, so I will handle that as well.
Me: And what is VHSL’s role within the esports pilot program?
Darrell: VHSL basically manages operations for the league. We work between the schools and PlayVS for contacts and communications. We also created an esports advisory committee to help define the program and to communicate with our executive committee about it.
Me: How did the idea for an esports program in Virginia come about?
Darrell: The previous director had his eyes on esports. Now that colleges are offering scholarships they are going to be recruiting from high schools, it’s at the point that we can start the pilot program.
Me: How many Virginia schools are involved?
Darrell: We have received calls from about 40 schools who are interested. Most schools are about to get back into session, so it is creating more buzz.
Me: What are some of the goals of the program?
Darrell: Well, the main goal for the program is growth. We want to see a majority of schools participating. We are trying to figure out how to add something new and make it a viable activity, and also want to monitor the finances of esports. With everything being online, the students do not have to travel during the regular season, which keeps the costs low.
We are hoping for a state championship with the games up on a screen, casters, and all of that. In the future, there may be room for some esports invitationals, where students can go somewhere and represent their schools like any other activity or sport. Overall, we are just trying to find ways to make esports a positive experience for the students.
Me: Do you think esports will take away from other activities?
Darrell: No, I don’t see esports taking away from any other activities because it is so different. I think we have it set up where students can manage their time with multiple activities if they need to. It’s definitely not designed to pull students away from sports or other activities. We think it will actually engage more students and bring out more students who might not already be involved in activities. I wouldn’t be surprised if esports brought more students to other activities.
Me: Has there been any push-back from any of the parents or administrators?
Darrell: Not really. Any conversations like that are people saying “it’s not a sport,” and we don’t consider it a sport. It’s esports, and equating physical activity to it is not correct. VHSL categorized esports as an academic activity, not athletics. The other conversation is about students simply sitting and playing video games. We just discuss all of the positive aspects for students involved, and stress the competition aspects. Showing people that esports provides an after-school activity for students who might not already have one, and how they have coaches and playoffs and everything usually gets everyone on board. In fact, we already have schools like Louisa County High School that already put together gaming rigs. Mr. Straley has been very supportive, and [is] one of the most excited in the state.
Me: How has it been working with PlayVS bringing esports to Virginia?
Darrell: Seth and Clint over at PlayVS are perfect for the students. With their background in high schools and PlayVS focus on the high school environment, we have not really needed to drive their program to a high school level. Since they partnered with NFHS, and they had experience doing this kind of pilot with other states, it’s been really easy working with them.
Me: Do you have any personal experience with esports?
Darrell: No, I don’t personally have any esports experience. We did get invited to an esports summit up at Shenandoah University, so many of us involved with the pilot will be going there to learn as much as we can and tour their new esports arena.