Bryan Board of Education

Matthew Kaullen petitioned the Bryan City Schools Board of Education and administrators on Monday to establish an esports program for high school students. JOSH EWERS/Staff

Bryan High School’s athletics program might soon move into the 21st century in a very big way and to start engaging a new type of competitor in the digital arena if a proposal put forth to the district’s board of education Monday goes through.

At Bryan City Schools’ September meeting, Bryan educator of five years Matthew Kaullen unveiled his plan for Bryan to potentially add esports to its repertoire of extra-curricular offerings through the non-profit, educator-led league Esports Ohio, now in its second year of competition with 100 teams either participating or in development.

Esports involves organized, coached and competitive online video gaming aimed at building largely the same qualities as physical sports at the youth level: teamwork, communication, hard work, strategy and perseverance.

If the project is approved, Bryan students would participate in sanctioned popular games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros., all approved for teen players in terms of content.

In an informal 24-hour email survey, 66 percent of about 140 respondents at Bryan High indicated they would take an interest in esports if it was available, with a further 34.9 percent responding “maybe.” If all those students decided to participate, the program would immediately become the largest in the district.

Bryan students would be able to try out for an undetermined number of spots on both varsity and junior varsity teams during two separate seasons, in the spring and fall. They would be required to maintain their GPA and attend regular practices, as would any athlete. Additional coaches are being sought, pending plan approval.

“We’re going to look at who has the top ability and put them in competition against other schools, just like you would any other sport. There are practices, video sessions, talking strategy, what went good, what went wrong and then learning from that along the way,” Kaullen said. “It’s all about teamwork, communication, strategic thinking as well as leadership. Someone will have to step up and pull the team together to have success.”

Social skill building, as well as pulling in students who may not otherwise participate and take pride in an activity were also cited as benefits to such a program. According to Kaullen, startup costs would be minimal.

With colleges like The Ohio State University, Tiffin University and the University of Akron now offering their own program spots and scholarships, as well as nearby area institutions like Napoleon High School and Four County Career Center maintaining their own teams, the trend is growing in Ohio.

Nearby schools like Delta, Liberty Center, Otsego, Springfield, Genoa and Maritime Academy of Toledo also participate.

Hilltop High School is also considering a program (see related story beginning on Page A1).

The numbers tell a story of exponential growth in the industry worldwide. In 2016, the total esports revenue was $493 million, out of which $350 million came from brand investments. The total increased 33 percent in 2017 to $655 million. Some 58 million viewers streamed the most recent League of Legends final, more than Major League Baseball’s World Series and the National Basketball Association’s NBA Finals.

Additionally, according to Influence Marketing, in 2017, there were 192 million casual viewers and 143 million enthusiasts, making the total esports audience 335 million.

Professional games can bring in yearly earnings similar to that of professional athletes.

In other action, the board approved:

• The hire of Amanda Romes, grade six to 12 server; Emiley Keller, preschool aide; and Velvet Feyes, grade six to 12 educational aide.

• The resignation of Linda Bleoo, grade six to 12 educational aide.

• A donation of $100 from Gregory and Mary Spangler for the Class of 2023; a $125 matching grant from Your Cause for Cy Dally Scholarship; and $200 from Bryan Area Business Women for unpaid school lunches.

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