The growing, worldwide phenomena of esports was evident when Joe Lumpkins was offered a position teaching math at the Notre Dame Cathedral-Latin School.
“I just happened to put on my resume that I was a former gaming club advisor at my last school,” recalled Lumpkins, now the esports coach at NDCL.
This fall, NDCL launched the esports program, which allows students to compete in video game competitions against teams from schools throughout the state in the Esports Ohio League. Revenue from the global esports industry exceeds $1.1 billion, with an estimated fan base of more than 500 million.
In the United States, more than 150 colleges and universities now offer varsity esports teams. A growing number of schools offer degrees in gaming design and esports management, as well as scholarships, including full rides, for outstanding gamers.
Joseph Waler, principal at NDCL, was envisioning an esports program, Lumpkins said. Once he was hired, Waler sat down with him last October to discuss the possibilities at the school.
“One of the big things was getting the right hardware,” Lumpkins said. “You can’t just game on any regular PC because the requirements of the machines are a bit more demanding.”
Esports discussions were the norm throughout the year and by February, the tech department and Lumpkins collaborated on a proposal in regard to the type of machines required. Unfortunately, it was approved as the novel coronavirus hit its peak.
“We couldn’t actually start with what we had planned on in the spring,” Lumpkins said. “But, we worked through it. Esports Ohio is essentially our league.”
Esports Ohio offers several games as choice games to play, two of which Lumpkins chose — League of Legends and Overwatch. The team has played games every week, competing with other high schools in Ohio, he said.
The second-floor classroom as been transformed into NDCL’s Esports Center. The center features 25 fully loading gaming computers that were designed and built by IT support specialist, Kyle Hoffman. The machines feature fast processors and video cards, mechanical backlit keyboards and curved gaming monitors.
NDCL’s Athletic Boosters contributed $10,000 toward the launch of the program. Charter members of the esports Lions include freshmen Charlie Sturgill, Sydney Wiegand, Josh Galante and Dakota McPadden; sophomores Xavier Onders, Matt Mejia, Medo Abumathkou and Joe Del Balso; and senior, Libby Burns, team captain.
Esports requires students to be in high school, Lumpkins said. While they can be for anyone interested, Lumpkins has noted that the students who sign up for esports are those who are quieter and who don’t necessarily know where they fit in.
“They might even view themselves as being a little bit different than others because they don’t really care for sports, they don’t know what kind of clubs they could get involved in, but they do know they like games,” Lumpkins said. “They kind of come out of their shell.”
The program serves as somewhat of an outlet at times for students, but it appeals to students who aren’t involved in a lot of other things, Lumpkins said. Meeting times are after school on Mondays and Tuesdays, one of those two days being the match day at times.
If students are interested in getting involved, the school provides announcements that go out before the season starts. The registering of team members after tryouts follow, Lumpkins said.
“The cool thing is is there are two seasons,” he said. “But, during those meeting dates, if somebody wants to come in and watch what’s going on, they’re welcome to watch. Last week I had a kid who came in and he’s had so much more experience in League of Legends. He was actually helping me coach, which was great because there’s stuff even I don’t even know about the game.”
During the offseason, students are still able to come in and play to get the experience before they decide whether or not they want to tryout for the season.
“I can’t get them out of the computer lab now. They’re all asking, ‘Can we do some more days,’ ” Lumpkins said with a laugh. “They love it — even kids who haven’t played these games before. The league is trying to get more games to offer.”
Lumpkins would like to be able to have another coach, as well as to have a junior varsity and a varsity team for training purposes.
“It makes me feel great,” he said. “I’ve never coached anything before. When I was asked to do esports, I was like this is cool because I’ve been gaming since the ’80s. I’m teaching something I love even more than math.”