BAKERSFIELD, Calif — Despite all the changes in education over the past year, one after-school activity has been able to remain in play. The Kern High School District's eSports program has helped students stay connected even while they were physically apart.
“The fact that I can bond with people through video games and also do it competitively is really cool,” Lily Grigsby, student at Frontier High School said.
Kern High School District created an eSports league in 2018, which allowed students to connect and play competitively with different high schools through video games.
“You’re not just sitting at home playing a video game, it’s really competing, playing as a team, it’s cooperation, it is growth. It is everything that you get out of traditional athletics but packaged together into video games,” Spencer Lawhon, eSports coach for West High School said.
In the eSports league, students play team-based action games called Overwatch and League of Legends. Over the past few years, the eSports league has grown and students attend practices weekly to discuss strategies and tactics, but it’s not all about the game, it’s about the team.
“I found many new friends through the club and they are also my teammates, and it wouldn’t have ever happened without eSports being a thing,” Alejandro Trujillo, student at West High School said.
Usually competitions take place in a classroom with all players in the same room but this past year with distance learning, students could no longer compete in-person. But, with eSports being completely based online, the games could go on.
“We were very fortunate that even through COVID we were able to compete at a smaller scale from years prior because we are playing from home with our own equipment,” Lawhon said.
“That really kept the moral up for our students because not only were they asked to perform as students through distance learning, but we also asked them to compete and be positive role models for their schools,” Max Bluemel, eSports coach for Frontier High School said.
And while being away from teammates was difficult, the connection was never lost.
“With the pandemic, I feel like it has brought us a lot closer because you know there is online school and then you can easily just get out of school and we can just all call and talk and stuff," Benjamin Kim, student at Frontier High School said.
“We talk every single day, we play every single day, we just feel like we are always together and it doesn’t really feel like we are separated at all,” Xinyu Zhang, student at West High School said.
And while competing in eSports this year has been different, students and coaches have continued to support and learn from each other.
“The more students that we have competitively gaming, the more it creates a positive culture on our campus,” Bluemel said.