Arizona high school esports competition is undergoing a big change.
This school year, esports will be played in the spring, with an exhibition season in the fall instead of a regular competitive season. The AIA also announced a new partnership with Playfly eSports in May after choosing not to renew its contract with PlayVS.
Esports is a sanctioned sport overseen by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
“This decision was made to bring esports in line with our traditional sports, in that there would be one Championship season per year,” Brian Bolitho, AIA’s director of business development, said in an email. mail to the Republic. “Fall is a time for schools and students to get into esports and sharpen their skills in preparation for the spring championship season.”
Robert Laplante, head coach of the Mesa Desert Ridge High School esports team and member of the AIA’s eSports Advisory Committee, said the new partnership will help propel esports into schools. Arizona high schools.
“The three games, League of Legends, Rocket League, and Smash Bros, probably have 2,000 students playing statewide,” Laplante said. “(Playfly) is more of an esports student-based company than just a company.”
For students, the new partnership between the AIA and Playfly will allow the fall season to serve as a time for exhibition games and additional practice.
Goodyear Millenium High School alumnus Andrew Orlando thinks the new rules will benefit students.
“That’s definitely one of the biggest benefits being prepared, like, ‘OK, so this is how we’re going to do this, this is how we’re going to race at the start of the season'” , Orlando said. “It allows students to create that synergy and prepare them more for the spring season.”
With the season being moved to spring, fall will be used as a time to recruit and look at how other teams have performed in the past.
Previously, Orlando said, the Millennium team didn’t know who they were going to play against until game day. Now, with the new partnership, the schedule will be released in full before the start of the season, allowing teams to better prepare for matches.
Currently, some school districts in Arizona are starting to push esports more than others, with more than 106 high schools in the state taking part in it last year.
This year, it will cost esports teams $1,800 to participate under the new partnership. The $1,800 is a fixed fee for three years and is paid by the school. PlayVS charged per student.
At Desert Ridge, Laplante said, there are 30 to 40 students on the roster, one of the largest teams in the state.
“Because it’s part of athletics, esports kids will pay a $100 athletics fee,” Laplante said. “My sporting director or sporting department will then use that money for fees, so basically the kids are paying their fees.”
Lukas Sheets, head coach of the Millenium eSports team and member of the AIA eSports Advisory Board, hopes that with the new partnership, esports can continue to grow and prepare students for college.
“I think the goal is to keep things competitive and legit and try to emulate what we see at the college and pro levels as best we can, so that high school esports can be a place where students can seriously train and prepare for that college or professional level,” Sheets said. “Because it’s more than just a video game club, where they get together and play recreationally, it’s is serious competition and our goal is to get these kids ready for college or a career.”
Orlando, who played for Sheets in high school, earned a full scholarship to play esports at Pace University and says the college level of competition is much tougher than high school.
“At this level, people understand the real competitive scene better, whereas in high school, it might be people who play for fun most of the time, or just weren’t in the competitive scene,” said said Orlando.
With the new partnership, the season will also be longer, starting in February and having a championship at the end of the season, similar to sports like basketball and baseball.
“It’s pretty exciting to see how it grows and changes from where it was when I first joined,” said Chandler Valley Christian Rocket League captain Ryan Bastic. “A big thing that I like is that the season is getting longer and there’s a more competitive feel to it.”
Valley Christian Smash Brothers captain Luke Morton added, “It creates excitement for players and really offers a lot of things that people don’t see when it comes to video games, because there’s this aspect to work as a team, communicate, train effectively and then grow with your teammates.”
Valley Christian head coach and AIA eSports advisory board member John Hunsaker said the new system is more “stable” and makes esports feel like a “more formal competition” with a better structure.
With the new partnership and the introduction of a longer season, Valley Christian believes it can better promote its matches to its audience and attract more people to esports.
“I think it will help tremendously in raising awareness and getting our name out there because we can advertise it much more effectively,” Morton said. “Being able to tell not only the teams, but also the public and other media when we are playing and at what times is very useful.”