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‘A big deal in every single part of the world’: Springdale Prep embraces esports as part of its athletic program

Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor added a new sports team to its athletic program this school year. It requires five players, quick decision-making and a fondness of video games.

The new video game team, or esports program, is nontraditional, at least in this country. But staff at Springdale see it as just as valuable as any athletic team.

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Ben Kohn, a music teacher at Springdale, is also the head coach of the esports team. It was simply a need for a virtual activity at first, but turned into a great way to get kids involved in afterschool activities.

It’s relatively unknown, he said, however the industry is huge.

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Esports are video games, often multiplayer, where players can compete against one another like “Call of Duty” and “Fortnite.” The team at Springdale Prep plays League of Legends. The goal of the game is to destroy the other team’s base while facing a ton of obstacles like other players, towers and minions. It’s played and watched by people all over the world.

A CNBC story states the 2018 League of Legends World Championship in South Korea had 100 million unique viewers tuned in online. That year’s Super Bowl had only 98 million viewers.

Although this isn’t a traditional athletic team, it’s part of the school’s athletic program and team members are held to the same standards as the rest of the school’s student-athletes. They can’t fall behind on their studies, grades have to be decent and students must attend tutoring if they need it.

The team already competed in its first tournament, run by PlayVs, and placed 80th out of 250 teams, which is “nothing to scoff at,” Luke Parr, the assistant coach, said. He added they played against kids that have been playing a lot longer.

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Kohn said the skills students learn by playing can be translated in the classroom. It teaches them communication, teamwork and critical thinking. Parr added that the students also pick up time management skills.

“A lot of kids started improving dramatically,” Kohn said about student performance.

Springdale Prep students, from left, Nick Wolfe, Ilyas Mushi and Elijah Odukomaiya play "League of Legends," part of the esports program at Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor Friday, April 24, 2021.
Springdale Prep students, from left, Nick Wolfe, Ilyas Mushi and Elijah Odukomaiya play "League of Legends," part of the esports program at Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor Friday, April 24, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Lorraine Fulton, Deputy Head of School, said their social skills also improved.

Not many high schools, none in Carroll, have a video game team that is part of their athletic program, but the coaches said it’s becoming more common.

“And it’s going to take off like a rocket ship,” Kohn said. “It’s a big deal in every single part of the world.”

Like traditional sports, video games also have kids becoming professionals and earn money. Colleges are offering athletic scholarships to gamers.

League of Legends require a five-person team, which is exactly how many students are on Springdale’s team. They practice four days a week, sometimes five, from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. They practice the game itself but also work on strategy ideas. Three of the team members were practicing on Friday while wearing the burgundy and gold Under Armour jerseys with their last names printed on the back.

One of the players was Ilyas Mushi, a freshman. He didn’t know about League of Legends until a year ago when he saw his friend playing it. He later found out about the esports program at school and joined the team.

“I was pretty bad at first,” he said, adding he died a lot and wasn’t getting kills.

He soon improved and so did his confidence. He said he’s better at decision making and doesn’t hesitate as much.

Fellow team member Elijah Odukomaiya, a junior, said he’s been playing for a few years after discovering it in 2018. He’s been a virtual student up until a couple of months ago and tried playing with his teammates while he was in Nigeria. The six-hour time difference made it difficult. There was also a two fraction of a second delay, Parr said.

Nick Wolfe, another gamer on the team, joined because he needed an after-school activity.

“I guess I wanted to try something new,” the sophomore added.

Said Parr: “Nick has devoted himself to the game. He’s taken huge steps to learn about the game as much as he can.”

The group did not make playoffs this year and has reached the end of the competition season. Fulton said they are just getting ready for next year.

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