NAECAD Interview: William Backman, Waterville Public Schools

November 5, 2021

The Waterville Public School’s started up an esports team at Waterville Senior High School in 2019. William Backman has been spearheading the project. He is also the Director of Technology and Esports Lead for Waterville Public Schools.

Backman started EsportsMaine in 2020 to promote esports opportunities in Maine. The organization's primary focus is to be a clearinghouse for information on schools, colleges, and teams operating Esports programs in the state.

NAECAD sat down with Backman to discuss esports impact on Waterville’s schools.

Can you provide an overview of the Waterville Public Schools esports program?

William Backman: Sure, so it sort of started back in 2019. I think we had a fortunate set of circumstances for it to be successful in our schools. First, it came from some confidence from our superintendent. Then, from there, it floated down to enthusiasm through the building administrator.

A lot of esports programs that I've seen have started, maybe bottom up. But This was nice because it started from the top down. So we had that support from the top. Part of the reason for the superintendent’s enthusiasm was that they were approached by some local donors who wanted to kick start an esports program at the Waterville Public Schools. So there was an anonymous donation to help fund some of the equipment and other things needed to help make that happen. So that was back in 2019.

I count myself lucky to have helped facilitate making it move forward, it found. I can't say I started it, but just being in that position. Being the technology director is another essential aspect in the success of that. If you don't have support from the tech department in your schools, there can be a lot of roadblocks.

How did Waterville Public Schools convince parents having an esports offering would be valuable to their students?

William Backman: As a parent myself of teenage-aged students, I completely understand the rolling of the eyes entirely when people say, “We want our kids playing more video games?” But I think what helped win people over was describing the benefits of extracurricular activities in general.

Extracurricular activities offer students opportunities to connect with our schools in different ways. And different Extracurricular activities reach different kinds of students. For example, some might do debate; some might do sports; some might do theater. Esports is just another extracurricular activity that may grab a different set of students who have not connected with our school, not just the academics side.

That puts them in a room with a guiding adult, which lets them have more contact with a responsible adult. Like other extracurricular activities, esports holds them to particular academics indicated standards. That seemed to convince the parents that this was a worthwhile thing.

Instead of just going home and sitting in their rooms playing video games, it keeps them at school in a coaching environment, helping them reach their goals and working on a team. Hopefully, it has positive benefits for all other aspects of their life.

How are the Waterville Public schools educating its schools about esports and the opportunities it can bring for students?

William Backman: Well, we did have some staff meetings back in the 2019 timeframe just to get feedback from faculty about esports, their thoughts and concerns, and just overall excitement maybe. There was a mixture of reactions to the possibility of esports.

Some people were worried that certain after-school activities that were already struggling for participation might that students siphon off for esports. So they were concerned about that. Some were concerned about just playing video games. So there was an initial outreach at the beginning to our faculty we also presented at school board meetings.

Currently, we try and keep the upcoming schedule of games. Just as we have announcements for other sports playing against other schools, we wish them luck, that kind of thing; we like to keep the esports events front and center just like the other activities.

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