Thomas College student gamers shown competing in esports at the Waterville campus. Esports are coming to Maine high schools in 2020-21 as an extracurricular activity sponsored by the Maine Principals’ Association. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

The Maine Principals’ Association is reaching out to a new group of students.

The MPA on Wednesday announced that it will begin offering esports as an extracurricular activity, with a fall and spring season, each ending in championships.

The fall season is expected to begin on Oct. 12, with playoffs beginning on Dec. 7. Esports is an electronic competition involving video games.

The MPA will partner with PlayVS, which will provide the online platform that schools will use to manage their teams. PlayVS has been a partner since 2018 with the National Federation of State High School Associations, when five states – Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – began holding esports championships.

“We had sporadic interest in the past, even before last year,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson, noting that Waterville and Cape Elizabeth had teams this spring. “We had got the ball rolling. Then when we went to the national athletic directors conference this year, a number of Maine athletic directors sat in on the esports seminar. A lot of them came back and said they had kids interested and were already building it into the budget.

“There’s quite a bit of interest around it. And, certainly, with the coronavirus situation, even more interest.”

The MPA shut down the spring sports season on April 9 because of the coronavirus pandemic and recently set guidelines for summer sports programs. No one knows what will happen to the fall sports season.

Bisson noted that schools will need to have a place for teams to play the video games, most likely a computer lab, with a supervisor or coach. Schools must pay $64 for each student to compete each season.

The fall season will consist of two leagues, one held on Tuesday, the other on Thursday. Games will begin at 4 p.m. Rocket League – a fast-paced sports game that combines cars and soccer – is for three-player teams; League of Legends – a multi-player online battle arena game – is a five-player game. A spring season, with two different games, will begin in January.

PlayVS will set up schedules for each team. Schools can offer multiple teams.

While Maine did not have the 20 teams needed to hold a state championship this academic year, individual players from 78 other schools besides Waterville and Cape Elizabeth participated in the PayVS spring season – an indication that interest is high in Maine’s high schools, Bisson said.

“This is an opportunity to reach other kids, bring kids into participating on a team and representing their school,” said MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham.

Bisson added, “Not only are we opening things up, but a large percentage of the kids involved did not play high school sports. And we find that many were never involved in a high school activity. We’re going to give them something to be excited about other than just their academics. They’ll learn some leadership skills, communication skills, learn about teamwork. It’s a positive in my book.”

And, the MPA noted in its press release, esports are the only team sport that can be played while observing social-distancing guidelines.

In 2016, there were only seven colleges offering esports. Two years later, there were 63, many offering scholarships.

Esports is a varsity program at Thomas College – last year the Terriers had players on six teams playing in five different leagues – and Central Maine Community College opened an esports arena last March and joined the National Association of Collegiate eSports.

 


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