by Sheldon Ocker
Revere administrators needn’t have worried that their decision to start an Esports program for middle-schoolers would be met with apathy.
Although competitive gaming didn’t begin until late in the school year, it was instantly popular. According to volunteer coach Andrew Edwards, 50 kids tried out for the two-level program – one set of teams for eighth-graders, another for sixth- and seventh-graders – but only 26 could be accommodated. Teams of five play after school on Tuesday or Thursday.
Andrews tried to bring in as many students as he could, given the limitation on gaming equipment. Consequently, in addition to the competitors, he chose one boy to put matches on a streaming service, twitch.tv/revereminutemen, and act as a play-by-play announcer.
“Anybody who wants to can watch,’’ said Edwards, during a practice/competition session. “Right now, three people are watching; we’ve had up to 12.’’
A segment of the Revere community whose favorite expression is “back in the day’’ probably wonders why anyone would watch a bunch of kids manipulate a gaming console.
But this is a different world. Professional gamers compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money in front of thousands of spectators.
“Honestly, I kind of want to end up there,’’ said eighth-grader Steven Luther, one of the fortunate 26 in the Revere program. “Not exactly for the money. I just want to compete up there.’’
Competition seems to be a key element that attracts gamers.
One of only two girls in the Revere program, sixth-grader Emilia Feder described herself as being “competitive about everything.’’ She aspires to become a lawyer. What kind? “A good lawyer,’’ she said.
The other girl on a Revere team, eighth-grader Reese Patton, wants to be an architectural engineer for NASA. One of her favorite courses this year was drone class, where students divide into teams to make and fly a drone.
When Luther heard that Revere was sponsoring gaming as a club sport, he was all-in.
“I was extremely excited because I’m very much into video games,’’ he said. “I usually play video games right when I get home, right after I get my homework done. It just kind of relieves stress.’’
On school days, Luther said he plays video games for about 45 minutes; on weekends it’s more like 1 ½ hours.
“Sometimes my parents set limitations, sometimes not,’’ he said. “They’re not real strict. My dad plays games, but my mom kind of hates everything about gaming. She tried to play but gave it up.’’
Luther’s brothers, 16 and 8, also play. So does his 4-year-old sister, Leah. “She likes it a lot,’’ Luther said. “Sometimes I let her win, but other times it’s not intentional. She just wins.’’
Why did the Revere program attract only two girls?
“I’m not sure,’’ said Patton. “Maybe it’s because they didn’t like the games that were offered or maybe they had a lot of other things going on.’’
Added Feder, “Maybe they had problems with their schedule.’’
Said Edwards, “I’m hoping some of that stigma goes away. I would love to see more girls represented.’’
There are other benefits to gaming besides pure fun.
“This is a good opportunity for kids who don’t necessarily have other programs that they’re drawn to,’’ Edwards said. “This is a chance for them to be on a team, to play other schools.’’
Edwards said more gaming consoles are needed to take the program to the varsity level. This year’s gamers held a fundraiser that grossed $2,500 and netted $1,500, but Edwards estimated the cost to become a viable high school varsity sport to be $10,000-$15,000.
“When you get into these leagues with other high schools, the competition gets extremely tough,’’ Luther said. “That kind of scares me, but I’m excited for it, if it ever comes.’’ ∞