HSEL still giving students a chance to play online

The High School Esports League and other organizations are finding ways to engage students by allowing them a chance to compete head-to-head ... virtually.
By: | March 23, 2020
Fredrick Tendong/Unsplash

With schools districts across the nation closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many K-12 extracurricular activities have been shut down as well. One that is still operating and keeping students busy in their free time is esports, or competitive video gaming.

Several organizations that operate esports leagues, including the North America Esports Federation (NASEF) and the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF), are offering their participants a chance to play if they can. The largest one, the High School Esports League (HSEL), last week opened a new queue system that allows K-12 gamers a chance to go head-to-head in online matches. Students can also compete in HSEL’s Spring Major Tournament and earn scholarships and prizes.

District Administration caught up with Jason Kirby, President of the High School Esports League and a featured speaker at the Academic Esports Conference and Expo, to give an update on the impact coronavirus has had on his organization’s work and in its efforts to keep this popular activity going:

Some 80,000-plus students and more than 2,000 schools compete in esports through HSEL. Do you have an estimate as to how many of those are still playing? Can students still play through HSEL if all activities have been canceled at their schools?

That is what makes HSEL unique. We’re all about being flexible for our students and schools. Due to the school closures, we’ve opened up our registration to allow all high school students to participate with their classmates, even if their school is closed for the remainder of the year. They get to choose from 12 different games across PC, Xbox, PS4 or Switch. We expect our numbers to be on par with what we experienced in the fall.

Have there been any other impacts on the way HSEL and its staff are operating in that mission to keep esports going?

We’ve been approached by so many different terrestrial sporting teams and companies to see if they can get their communities involved in esports. We’ve been overwhelmed trying to make accommodations in our platform to support them. We’re giving them a channel to stay connected and competitive, as all traditional sports have been shut down. We’re staying vigilant in helping grow the esports community during these difficult times by engaging the unengaged, which has always been our mission.

What are some of the ways the HSEL is keeping students involved in esports during the pandemic?

We’re are going to be running a variety of smaller tournaments to allow students and their classmates to participate in esports during school closures. Leveraging our match and party chat features, students can actively chat and plan their strategies without leaving the platform. We will be rolling these out after we kick off the Spring Major.

Why is continuing to play esports so important to students? Are you hearing positive feedback from those who are competing?

We’ve had countless teachers and students reach out concerned we’d be canceling our tournaments, but they were ecstatic to hear that we’re actually expanding our tournament options to create as many opportunities to engage, regardless of the games they want to play and their school’s status. Being able to play esports against fellow high school students keeps kids focused on school pride by representing their schools in competitions. They also get to maintain and build their relationships with fellow students. And by having an outlet like HSEL to compete on, parents can rest easy that chats and communications online are with fellow high schoolers being monitored to prevent toxicity that is rampant in open online forums outside of HSEL.

Do you have any short-term plans for how the league will operate, say over the next few months? Will there be any changes to tournaments?

We’re trying to accommodate as many people as possible while they are at home with little to do. We plan to complete our eight-week Spring Major as planned, offering up to $1,000 scholarships to all our winners. But we’re also going to be running close to 100-plus tournaments over the summer to keep students engaged in a safe and entertaining way.

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