NAECAD had a chance to connect with Andy Mendez, Chief Technology Office, for the Illinois High School Esports Association (IHSEA) to discuss the association's impact on students.
NAECAD: Can you tell us more about the IHSEA?
Andy: The IHSEA (Illinois High School Esports Association) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers all Illinois students and schools the opportunity to play in structured tournaments against other high schools in the state. We are a community-based organization that holds competitions and supports all schools in Illinois looking to venture into esports. From building a community on campus to participating in competitions, we help students, educators, administrators, and parents every step of the way.
NAECAD: What are some of the big projects and initiatives the IHSEA is working on?
Andy: At the moment, IHSEA is finalizing a partnership with UGC (Ultimate Gaming Championship) to raise the quality of tournament offerings in our state. With UGC, our in-house tournament operators can focus on running their tournaments to the highest expectations rather than worrying about tournament platforms, limitations, etc. Additionally, Matt Jackson and the team at UGC are making strides to help improve our already excellent week-to-week Twitch production by giving us access to production tools that we previously have not taken advantage of. UGC has been a superb activator so far, and we hope to continue our success with them in the future.
NAECAD: How has IHSEA engaged and educated parents about esports?
Andy: This year, the IHSEA hosted our first Illinois High School Esports Conference sponsored by ByteSpeed / Gravity Gaming. In this conference, we successfully hosted many diverse panels and keynotes to educate parents, admins, and all-around non-endemics (about esports) on esports' benefits and inner workings. Tickets to this virtual conference were free (made possible by ByteSpeed), and all of our panels, sessions, and keynotes are available for free on our YouTube channel today.
NAECAD: What is one thing you want students to learn from participating in the IHSEA?
Andy: Our hope is by promoting competition and learning through esports and STEM, we can provide students not only potential career paths and spark new interests but also develop soft skills like teamwork, communication, respect, and timeliness. Being a state association, we have the unique opportunity to connect on a school-to-school, student-to-student basis and help our participants develop the same skills a traditional athlete would have playing Soccer or Basketball. Overall, as a personal note, I hope that students moving forward through competing in the IHSEA will assist them in targeting what they'd like to do in college.
Some players will get a taste of competition that they will thoroughly enjoy and aim for college scholarships. Inversely, some incredibly good students at the game experience burnout in high school competition and realize they would be unhappy committing to a college to play esports. We are here to promote student growth in every way that we can.