NAECAD sat down with Scott Hertzog, the head coach and teacher of the esports program at Penn Manor High School. Hertzog talks about starting the esports program, how parents and the community have reacted, how students benefit from esports, and any new initiatives for the program.
Scott Hertzog: “Four years ago, there were a lot of schools that began to ramp up these sports programs. So we were not in that first tier. And so probably the year prior, they began to explore, and people began to develop it. And there were some other school districts that kind of started to hit the ground running.
We began the initial exploration of the Esports program for our school, which was a lot of education. I would argue that Esports is still pretty new each year. It seems like the organizations that the leagues that we're running with keep changing. We, of course, have a state organization that kind of governs all collegiate esports. Well, excuse me, the collegiate sports in general. And Esports doesn't have that head. And there have been attempts to establish that sort of thing in Pennsylvania, but it's an evolving platform.
When we started, much education needed to happen in the community and the school district to the teachers, not students. Students know just from watching Overwatch League or League of Legends and some of those they were familiar with. So this gave them a medium to do this at a school level and made it more applicable.”
Scott Hertzog: “We've had no fallback. We've had no pushback from parents. The parents of the children in the program have supported it 98% of the time. For the most part, the parents themselves have been supportive of the program. They have come around and cared.
We've got a little bit more pushback from teachers, believe it or not. In our first year running, we were doing a review of an Overwatch vod, and one of the teachers complained that there was a TV displaying violent shooting games, which created some issues. I mean, our school districts made a very concerted effort to allow Overwatch, I think because of the cartoonishness of it. League is much softer than that. And then Rocket League, there's nothing to worry about, but it has eliminated some titles that I think are popular. Titles like Valorant, certainly Rainbow Six, CS: GO, which have their competitive fields that as a public high school, when you look at a nation where you hear about school shootings, it just becomes somewhat concerned there's an effort to at least create some divide or make it poppable to the community so that they don't rise up and just shut it.
We want to continue to foster that space, but to do that in a public institution, means it's not every game we can offer and have everyone in at least our community. Our community tends to be a little bit more conservative. And so, we want to make sure that we provide opportunities for students while still respecting that space.”
Scott Hertzog: “Wow, so many. Number one, when you're in a school setting, the educational benefits of playing computer games on a team have to have passing grades to be on the team. I mean, that's just part of it. So socially, it's given many of them away to connect and connect with peers and build connections. It certainly creates an ideal way to communicate in person or even online to just work with that. So that's important.
For many of them, playing solo queue in a game is different from playing with a team. So learning how to function and communicate as a team and that you are not the person that constantly needs to carry the group; you're working these are essential skills. Learning how to work as a team with other people whose varying skill levels is vital, so that's a crucial thing. Some of them are taking leadership roles, and this is not to mention some of the stem opportunities.”
Scott Hertzog: “I think one of the things that we have from our first year was great. We had a strong shout casting program. We had some parents that were involved. We only ran Overwatch, and then in the spring of that year, we ran League and Overwatch; of course, the pandemic happens, right? So everything went remote.
We could function because you can play esports remotely, and we added Rocket League to the roster of games. This year we came back, and we were all in person, and our head coach stepped down about four weeks into the season, so I took over. So, the initiative was how do we keep this thing running?
We have pushed the shout casting initiatives, the graphic designs, and some of the STEM opportunities. We will do our first sports banquet at the end of the year geared towards better connecting with parents. We're now live streaming games in the library, so people can come and watch if they want to participate in the experience, so we're going to try and do endeavors like that and try to keep people in the loop.”