COLLINSVILLE, Miss. (WTOK) - One of the fastest growing sports in the world might be one you’ve never heard of and West Lauderdale High School is among 39 other Mississippi schools participating in the inaugural season of Esports, which was sanctioned by the MHSAA in 2018.
Trent Airhart is the IT Supervisor for Lauderdale Co. Schools and serves as one of the team’s coaches.
“Esports is a growing industry,” Airhart said. “This past year was a 900 million dollar industry. This next year it’s anticipated to be over a billion dollars. The viewership for Esports increases every year. In fact, the world finals for Esports has surpassed the viewership of the NBA and the World Series finals and it’s only anticipated to grow.”
Esports is an online competitive game played between teams in separate locations. Like more traditional sports, Esports require teamwork, critical thinking and strategy and there’s an outcome with a winner and loser. West Lauderdale fields two teams: West Lauderdale Knights Radiant and West Lauderdale Knights Creed.
Gabriel Broome is a senior on the Radiant team and sees similarities and differences between Esports and other sports, such as baseball and football.
“So in those more abstract concepts of sports, it’s similar but in the actual like, nitty-gritty – especially at the high school level it’s – you lose a lot of difference in like practices and that kind of thing,” said Broome.
Mississippi high schools play their weekly matches through the League of Legends game, where players select Champions that will capture enemy towers in the process of taking control of the enemy’s Nexus – or power source.
“The main thing between other sports and what keeps Esports centered around that subject that it’s considered a sport is communication,” said West Lauderdale Sophomore, Ayden Garcia. “Communication is key to our success. The only difference is that you’re not really using like muscles or like, you’re using your brain per se and you’re more geared towards a screen rather than outside activities.”
In many ways, Esports is more inclusive than other sports.
“There’s no barriers to travel and, you know, it can be played by people that may not be physically able to play other sports,” said Airhart. “You know, all they have to do is be able to control a mouse and a keyboard and we can field players that are either male or female on the same teams.”
Ayden agrees the format and environment of the game allows for a wide array of participants.
“People think Esports is more towards a certain group of people, but I say that Esports are for everyone,” he said. “If you enjoy games, if you enjoy talking to people. If you enjoy just, like, communicating in general and just having a good time, then yea, that’s what Esports is.”
West Lauderdale streams their League of Legends matches Tuesdays at 4pm at these links: www.twitch.tv/wlhsesports and www.twitch.tv/wlhseports2.