CABOT, Ark. — Sports are a huge part of a many kids' high school career. Students who are not especially athletic now have a new option that is gaining popularity across Arkansas – Esports.
People can play Esports at the high school, college, and professional level. The Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) approved Esports as a high school sport in 2019.
Members of the Cabot High School Esports team say gaming is not only fun, but it also comes with valuable life skills.
“I just thought it was like a little club that you could be in, but no, it's AAA sanctioned, which is cool,” team member Dylan Koski said.
Just like the other sports, players compete against other schools. Koski and three teammates compete in the game "Rocket League," and they recently won a state title.
“It was just really unexpected,” he said. “Whenever we won, I was really hyper; it was very exciting.”
Robert Forster, the team’s coach, says Esports can help set players up for success beyond high school.
“It helps teach them team playing, [how to] be a team player, and go on with a confidence that if they put hard work into it they can pretty much do whatever they want to do,” he said.
Gaming has been an outlet for many kids during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Forster. While other sports had to hit pause because of the virus, Esports only leveled up.
“It's a great sport to be able to play that we don't have to go face to face with other players from other teams, so we can stay in our own environment,” Forster said.
When it comes to that environment, he said it is a safe one for all students.
“It doesn't matter, boy or girl. There's no gender. There's no height. There's no, only honor roll kids, or kids that might be struggling,” he said. “It's for everyone.”
Autumn Vredeveld and several of her friends recently joined the team.
“It's super open,” she said. “Everyone is really nice and friendly. Of course, there's competition, but it's really good.”
With a state championship under his belt, Koski said it’s hardly game over.
“I'd love to be on like a college team,” he said.
Some colleges and universities have Esports scholarships. That includes Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, which awarded $20,000 in scholarships to students for the 2020-2021 season.