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Video games as school sport? Murray Bridge teens take online learning to a new level
Esports are a growing industry, and one Murray Bridge High School and its students hope to tap into.
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This Saturday, five high schoolers will represent Murray Bridge – and South Australia – at the national championships of a sport you’ve probably never heard of.
League of Legends is a video game in which teams of heroes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, compete for control of a virtual arena.
It is also one of the world’s most prominent esports, or electronic sports, with a world championship offering more than $1 million worth of prizes and watched by more than 100 million people.
Hold on a second, though.
Can a video game really be a sport?
There were similarities between all objective-based team games, argued Ross Groocock, a maths and science teacher with a PE background who coordinates Murray Bridge High School’s League of Legends team.
You needed to memorise tactics, be aware of what’s happening on other parts of the field, control space and force your opponents to lose their focus.
“AFL, lacrosse, rugby and soccer are all invasion games,” he said.
“You’ve got to invade another person’s half of the field and achieve some sort of goal, and the same strategies work.
“All the things I taught when I was coaching basketball work on this field.”
He became aware of esports through his son Sam, a gamer, and became really interested when he noticed a relationship between students’ academic achievement and their ability as players.
“I’m interested to see whether getting serious about this, taking on board lessons about learning to be good, translates to improvements in their games,” he said.
Team captain Joel Wiencke – also known by his gamer tag, TrickStarJ – said it had been cool to represent the school with his friends.
“We can have fun while still being educational,” he said.
He was excited, if nervous, about this weekend’s championships.
Sam Groocock – CHEESE4949 to his mates – showed how the team had scouted its opponents’ rosters, broken down their likely strategies and planned ways of countering them.
Mitchell Williams, Henry Chewings and Ned King – MBHSApex, Quattro426 and Jackaboy14 – will round out the Murray Bridge High School Bunyips’ division one team, while Henry Hawcroft – Krozok – will fill in if required.
Esports can be an entrepreneurial pathway, too
This year Murray Bridge High School has also included esports in its curriculum for the first time.
Almost two dozen year 11 students are earning SACE credits through their studies of Entrepreneurial Esports, part of the school’s entrepreneurial specialist program.
As well as practising and competing online, they learn how to build their own brands, attract sponsorship, build healthy habits – such as not staying up until 4am playing games with your friends – and maintain good mental health.
Esports are still very much emerging as an industry, but already there are people out there who make a living playing competitively, streaming video of their games to subscribed viewers, commentating, coaching or staging events.
That’s before any mention of the wider video game industry, which generates $245 billion in revenue per year, or almost twice as much as movies and music combined.
The International Olympic Committee even considered including esports in the 2024 Paris Olympics at one point, and they will feature at the 2022 Asian Games.
Much like any other sport, though, Murray Bridge High School’s representatives didn’t necessarily see themselves playing professionally.
Joel wanted to do music or IT at university, while Sam hoped to further his studies of mathematics.
“I love (esports) as a hobby,” Sam said.
“It’s a nice way to break up study time.”