Louisa County High School is a middle-sized school located in Mineral, Virginia. It has roughly 1500 students from ninth to 12th grade. LCHS is the only high school in Louisa County, a mostly rural area. I actually graduated from there in 2009. Despite being a small-town community, the Louisa Lions are getting ahead of the pack in a brand new high school activity–esports.
The Virginia High School League (VHSL) along with PlayVS recently announced an esports pilot program for high schools in Virginia. LCHS will be one of the roughly 40 schools involved in Virginia’s first season. Doug Straley is the Superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools, and he is excited to help bring esports to LCHS. He and the current principal of the high school, Lee Downey, have previously been Athletic Directors, so they understand the value that competition and after-school activities bring to the students. I got to sit down with Mr. Straley in his office and talk a bit about the new program.
Me: I have red several news articles about esports coming to Virginia high schools, and I noticed LCHS got mentioned a few times as a school that is ready to participate in the pilot program. Of course, I had to come talk to you about it and find out more. How did this all come about?
Doug: As Superintendent, I am absolutely for the pilot program. When VHSL brought up this idea for esports at the high schools I knew right away we wanted Louisa to be part of it. Our Director of Technology is on the pilot committee and thought it was a good idea. He helped me get a better understanding of esports and what it could bring to the students.
Me: Do you have any personal experience with esports?
Doug: Of course, my kids play all kinds of games, but I don’t really have any experience with esports.
Me: So what makes you think esports will be a good activity for high school kids?
Doug: Once you do the research it becomes pretty clear that esports can have a lot of positive influences for the students. By 2030, 85 percent of jobs that exist now will no longer exist. So we have to ask ourselves “how do we prepare our students for that?” Here in Louisa we try to focus on the “5 C’s,” which are Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical thinking and Citizenship. Esports pretty much checks off all of the boxes. Students collaborate as a team and have to communicate in and out of the game. Coming up with strategies is creativity and critical thinking. They build sportsmanship from competing and have to get along with each other, which touches on citizenship. And they learn all of these skills in a fun way that kids love, playing video games.
Me: Has there been any push-back from parents or teachers?
Doug: Occasionally you talk to someone who says something like “they do enough of that at home,” but once you talk to them and help them get a full understanding that it’s practice and competition and teamwork and coaching, and you let them know the opportunities that are out there, then they get on board.
Me: Do you think esports will take anything away from other activities?
Doug: We don’t see it taking anything away from other activities. We still obviously want students to participate in sports and other things. It should not be a problem.
Me: And what exactly is LCHS doing to get this program started?
Doug: Well, we will be hiring coaches here soon for all the games: League of Legends, which I think is the biggest one, Rocket League and Smite. We can put together however many teams we want, so we built out an esports lab over by the library to help get as many kids involved as possible.
Me: You built an esports lab? I would love to see that.
Doug: Oh yeah, it’s top-notch. We have a TV over there to let people watch competitions. We actually took the school board over there and let them try out some of the games and headsets, so they could see what esports is. They had a great time over there. We can definitely get you in there to take a look.
Mr. Straley then called over to Mr. Downey, the high school principal, and asked him to take me over to the esports lab. I went over and met him, and he walked me up the stairs and past the library. Inside the lab were roughly 20 gaming rigs, complete with MSI computers and monitors, Respawn chairs, a projector and white board. Like Mr. Straley said, there was a large TV mounted outside the lab for spectators. It was surreal to see such a professional setup in a high school.
Me: Do you know much about esports?
Lee: I just play Fortnite with my son sometimes. It’s a lot of fun. And I know that a kid just won millions of dollars in a tournament. But I don’t really know much about the games we are offering for the esports pilot.
I explained a bit to Mr. Downey about League of Legends, Smite and Rocket League, mostly League of Legends. That is what I follow most closely at the professional level. I told him all about the different regional leagues, the international events, the business deals and the viewership numbers.
Lee: So what do jerseys for esports look like?
Of course, I pull out my phone, look up images for Cloud9 and 100 Thieves jerseys to give him an idea of what they look like. I explain the branding of the sponsors, how some have names, some have numbers, just like traditional sports. I tell him how each team has its own colors and some even have mascots.
Me: You will have to let me know when you get some Louisa Lions League of Legends jerseys. I just might buy one.