The term “student-athlete” takes on a new meaning at Saint Mark’s High School in Pike Creek, where gamers can exercise and flex perhaps the most important muscle of all: the brain.
Senior Giovanni Antonelli is captain of Saint Mark’s Esports’ Mario Kart team, which plays out of the school’s brand new, state-of-the-art Esports Center.
“It’s similar to most other sports in a lot of ways — it’s just that rather than doing physical exercises, you’re doing mental ones,” Antonelli said. “It takes a lot more skill than people realize to be as good as some of the professionals, and it’s also one of the fastest-growing and biggest industries on the planet.”
Antonelli is qualified to compare esports to the traditional kind: he also plays on the school’s soccer team.
When he’s not on the field, he spends much of his time in the new 1,200-square-foot gaming center, which features 21 gaming computers, including five on a varsity competition stage. Those computers are linked to televisions that allow onlookers to watch gamers perform in real time.
The center also has three gaming console stations, a team collaboration corner, and a shoutcasting center. (If you’re wondering what shoutcasting is, just think of sports commentators but for livestreamed video games.)
The rise of esports
Before the center opened, the esports team played out of a room in the school’s basement using spare computers, according to Tom Fertal, the school’s president.
Fertal understands why some people might be skeptical at first. Esports is a relatively new field, and for many — especially the older generation — it’s not clear at first what place video games have in schools.
“If our sons or daughters or our students said, ‘Hey, I want to make a living playing professional sports,’ we’d kind of say, ‘Okay, but you know, there’s not a lot of people making a living playing professional sports.’”
But careers in professional sports aren’t just limited to the players on the field, Fertal said. One could work in sports journalism, marketing, medicine or sales. They could be announcers or trainers or photographers.
“Esports is the same way,” he said. “Are there people making a living playing games competitively? Absolutely. Can you win money in an esports tournament? Absolutely. But the larger industry is why it’s fitting for an academic setting.”
Outside of playing esports, people interested in the field could become coders, artists, designers, announcers, organizers — and yes, coaches, trainers, marketers and journalists, too.
“Ten years ago, people were saying that the jobs of tomorrow don’t exist yet,” Fertal said. “This is what they were talking about — these are the jobs that exist now that didn’t exist then.”
The statistics support Fertal’s conclusion.
The $200 billion video game industry far outpaces professional sports in terms of annual revenues. Esports is expected to claim a bigger portion of that market each year.
According to Newzoo’s Global Esports & Live Streaming 2022 Market Report, this year, the global esports audience will grow to reach 532 million people. By 2025, that audience is projected to surpass 640 million.
By the end of this year, esports is projected to generate nearly $1.38 billion in revenues globally.
In order to meet demand, many colleges and universities — including the University of Delaware — have launched competitive esports teams. In 2018, esports clubs from all eight Ivy League colleges introduced the formation of the Ivy Esports Conference.
When Principal Diane Casey saw where the industry was headed, she realized “it’s right where we needed to be.”
“It’s really on the cutting edge,” Casey said. “The scholarship money is there for them to go to college. It’s drawing students in and for the students that we have, it gives them something to get involved with.”
Casey said she had been telling her own three children all their lives to get off the video games and go play outside. When a student approached her to discuss esports, she knew she’d have to do some research.
It was those conversations with students that prompted the school to make esports a priority. Now, Saint Mark’s students are in the center until 5 p.m., Casey said, and some classes take advantage of the space, too.
Mario Kart team captain Antonelli is now applying to colleges. The first question he asks: Do they have an esports team?
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