Saint Mark's esports center opened at the beginning of last school year.

Saint Mark’s inspiring careers in gaming with esports center

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Saint Mark's esports center opened at the beginning of last school year.

Saint Mark’s esports center opened at the beginning of last school year.

Video games are no longer just a source of entertainment, but a multibillion dollar industry that is becoming increasingly ingrained in schools with some students clamoring to pursue a career in the field. 

“Almost everyone in the world is connected to a video game somehow, on their mobile phone or on their console,” said Chris Ruffini, esports manager at Saint Mark’s High School. “A lot of people say they’re not a gamer, but you could probably find them playing Candy Crush or Wordle on their phone or something like that.”

Saint Mark’s is one of the first schools in Delaware to create an esports program, as they unveiled their state-of-the-art esports center and began competing this past school year. 

There’s about 20 students on the varsity team that compete, and there’s around 50 that participate in the club. More are expected to join as the program develops and more schools start to adopt esports. 

Kareem Ward, a student Saint Mark’s, wants to pursue a career in game writing. Many video games have a storyline and plot to it, as well as pre-programmed scenes, and Ward would be responsible for putting that all together. 

“There’s things that you don’t think of as careers in video games, but like writing dialogue, a lot of people don’t realize there’s literally thousands of people that do that for a living where they just write dialogue,” Ruffini said. “These words aren’t just made up when you play a game, like the cutscenes in Call of Duty – people write that.”

Saint Mark’s esports schedule

Ruffini used plenty of analogies to football when describing the esports program. 

The team has a three-week preseason followed by about 10 weeks of competition.

It’s split between Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with the team of 20 divided into smaller groups that compete on the corresponding day. Each day is a different game, and participants lock themselves into that game for the semester – or season – but can switch to a different game the following season.

This past semester, the team was divided into four games: Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Overwatch 2 and Valorant. 

Ruffini said the teams are locked into their specific game for a semester because just like a quarterback, if someone is missing, the whole team suffers. 

The team also studies film to prepare for their next match.

“In the club, a day will mostly consist of after school practice where the teams will get together and work on their game, which includes reviewing their videos to see mistakes they might have made, or what they did well to start doing more,” said Ethan McIntire, president of Saint Mark’s esports club. 

He wants to work with computers in some capacity as a career, perhaps designing video games, he said. 

“Computers have always fascinated me and the things that you can do with them,” he said. 

Members of the club typically spend a couple hours after school in the esports center. They usually spend some time in the games’ practice modes, and then run different scenarios. 

As president, McIntire also helps plan tournaments for the school.

“So if we wanted to do something like a Super Bowl tournament to celebrate the Super Bowl, we’d organize a Madden tournament, or we’ll have a 2k tournament for March Madness,” McIntire said. 

Ruffini pointed out that students who fail a class cannot be on the competition team, while the other sports at the school require two failures.

Students can also come into the esports center during their study hall to practice. 

Everyone from the school is allowed to enter the room on Fridays, but Monday through Thursday are competitive days and reserved for the team. 

Growing popularity

Wilmington University is now offering the state’s first college-level certificate for gamers who potentially want a career in the industry.

The new 18-credit, 100%-online certificate was created with Futures First Gaming, a accredited Ed, Tech, Media and Esports Entertainment company.

The certificate can stand alone, or its credits can count toward an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Students will take six credits of esports-specific coursework, including esports events and production, and esports and data, with nine credits of industry skill-based curriculum designed to provide students with many flexible career opportunities.

Saint Mark’s is working on making a course for students who are going to Wilm U to earn a college credit for esports while in high school. 

RELATED: Wilm U to add esports certificate to list of offerings                                     

Red Clay Consolidated School District already has a partnership with Future First Gaming to turn A.I. duPont’s esports club into an active class pathway with ties to the University of Delaware’s esports program.

Ruffini applauded UD’s esports program, which was the first curriculum implemented in a Delaware institution of higher education relating to gaming. 

“They actually have multiple areas that you can focus on in esports,” he said. “There’s management, there’s production and then there’s social media degrees that you can receive.”

Unlike sports that are members of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, Saint Mark’s can actually offer scholarships for students to attend to be on the competitive team, Ruffini said. 

Last year, Saint Mark’s competed in the High School Esports League. 

“Since esports is sort of new, especially in the Delaware area, these are actually nationwide leagues,” Ruffini said, “so we can actually be playing schools from Texas or California or all over.”

Eventually, he hopes Delaware can have a statewide esports league, and wants to play more teams in the region in order to forge rivalries with other schools to bump the passion and intensity in competitions. 

Importance to Saint Mark’s 

“It’s such a community that is accepting, like it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, what color you are, it’s just so much more togetherness,” Ruffini said. “That’s why I love it because when you come into the esport room, it isn’t just one type of kid. It’s just an amazing thing to see that it doesn’t just reach out to one demographic, it reaches out to everyone.”

Saint Mark’s President Tom Fertal said the 1,200-square-foot esports center is an important part of the school’s $8 million capital campaign. 

RELATED: eSports, virtual reality among St. Mark’s ‘Renewing’ goals

$1 million of the campaign is for innovation and technology, which includes the esports center, as well as a robotics lab and makerspace, renovating the television room into a media and broadcast studio and developing an augmented reality learning lab.

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“We’re going to be launching a full array of programs for middle school and elementary school groups to come out to use these spaces and experience these new things,” Fertal said. “We’ll be looking at what a three-hour program looks like for 20 seventh graders to come out to learn about esports, game design and more.”

A goal of his in developing the esports program is making sure other schools who don’t have a state-of-the-art center can come in and benefit from learning more about the gaming industry and possible career opportunities.

Technology isn’t going anywhere, Ruffini said, and gaming can help create practical skills. 

“My cousin, actually, he’s a Marine in the military…he was telling me that he’s actually been driving drones, in the military,” Ruffini said, “and from his gaming background, they chose to use him in that role.”

Some of the operations in the USS Delaware submarine, like zooming closer or farther to something via the telescope, use an Xbox controller, primarily because the younger folks in the unit are familiar with gaming which makes operation easier.

RELATED: Finally! USS Delaware home state commissioning Saturday

“Esports can help produce so many careers, and I’m glad that Saint Mark’s is leading the way,” he Ruffini said. 

Some schools, he said, are afraid to take the risk into investing into esports, mainly because it can be expensive and it’s new and different. 

“We’re definitely giving the kids opportunities to find opportunities in the world that’s growing,” he said, “and we’re focusing on things that will help them find those careers.”

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