The Impact of High School Esports

November 2, 2021

For the last two decades, esports have been increasing in popularity. With the combination of standard competition and video games, players from seemingly any walk of life can participate in esports.

As a result, several programs spanning from the professional to the grassroots level have emerged to complement it. One such example of the grassroots level is universities and high schools creating their esports programs.

Speaking of high schools, according to a study conducted in 2020, thousands compete in various top-down programs across the country. The biggest benefactor of the ongoing wave of esports prominence is PlayVS, an organizational platform that houses 5,000 high schools.

One person experiencing what high school esports can offer is Brian Bolitho, Director of Business Development in the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Under his supervision, the AIA created an esports program to give students more options to participate in interscholastic events. Bolitho’s association’s moves mirror the rest of the country, seeing esports as a viable strategy to engage with students.

With that in mind, the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors interviewed Bolitho to discuss the AIA’s esports program.

What motivated the association to include an esports offering?

Brian Bolitho: Our focus at the AIA is to provide opportunities for which students have the ability to compete in different athletics and activities. With the rise of esports, we wanted to give those students the ability to come together as a team on their campus for the different games that we offer and compete for a state championship, and recognize it in the same way we do any other sport or activity the AIA sanctions.

How does the association educate parents about the opportunities of esports?

Brian Bolitho: We rely mainly on our member schools and our platform. We are currently working with our partner, PlayVS, to display the schedules, results and brackets on the dedicated esports page.

Through our partner, PlayVS, we are able to offer educational materials to partners so that they may understand the benefits of esports. PlayVS does this through the Parent’s Guide to Esports.

What has been the reaction from parents as their kids engage in esports?

Brian Bolitho: Very positive. I remember our first live championship event in the fall of 2019, and the excitement the competitors had to be able to compete in front of a live crowd, and the parents and spectators as well to watch esports come to life as an AIA activity.

What was the process to get school districts on board with esports?

Brian Bolitho: Like any new sport or activity, it started as an “emerging activity.” This gives schools the ability to get started as we work through the early stages and learn what is needed at their schools to start competing in esports.

Esports has grown from 35 schools competing (43 League of Legends, 51 Rocket League teams) in the fall of 2019 to 66 schools competing (50 League of Legends, 77 Rocket League and 47 Super Smash Bros teams) this fall. Now, with esports as an officially sanctioned activity, we expect the growth to continue.

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