Esports league forms unlikely bridge between local high schools, CMC
Colorado Mountain College utilized upwards of $70,000 in grant funds to start a new esports program at high schools and campuses in the region
The Friday before Eagle County Schools took off for spring break, a small number of students gathered in classrooms across the county to participate in the final night of a Rocket League tournament between the area’s Colorado Mountain College campuses and a select number of the county’s high schools.
This tournament is just one component of a new esports program with Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley and Edwards campuses, Battle Mountain High School and the two Red Canyon High School campuses.
The program was started this school year thanks to funds received from the Carl Perkins Innovation grant. In 2019, the college applied for the grant to start a new esports program that, per the grant’s parameters, would build a bridge between high schools and colleges and engage students in experiential learning.
The schools received upwards of $70,000 from the grant and split the funds between the two college campuses and three high school campuses. The funds mainly went to purchase PC components so that each school could build five high-powered PCs to use for esports. The Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs and Leadville campuses also participated in this year’s league but weren’t part of the grant money.
“It was an educational journey for the students as they assembled the computers. They’re avid computer users, but very few of them actually know the nuts and bolts of what happens with them,” said Brian Tinker, a professor and program coordinator of digital media and graphic design at Colorado Mountain College. “They built these from the ground up.”
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Esports, which includes any competitive multi-player video game, have been rising in popularity for most of the last decade, transitioning from a niche corner of sports culture to an industry projected to make $1.5 billion by 2023. And in the last five or so years, esports has begun to make its way to college campuses. Today, more than 130 colleges now offer an esports program, some even competing on a national scale.
“Esports has been gaining a lot of traction in higher ed in general, but not every school offers this as a program or as something that students could participate in officially,” said Xiao Yang, a Colorado Mountain College digital media faculty member and one of the managers of the esports program at Spring Valley. “There are a lot of opportunities in this area that are just now expanding. We want to tap into that and make sure our students have a chance for that as well.”
An unlikely bridge
While Colorado Mountain College and the two Eagle County high schools are not yet competing on the same level as some of the college varsity esports teams, they are certainly off to a good start. All of the high school and college teams belong to esports leagues — the High School Esports League and Play VS, accordingly — which enables the teams to participate in other organized events outside of their inter-campus competing.
Not only did the program provide a new extracurricular activity for students, it was also able to create a direct pathway between the region’s high schools and Colorado Mountain College campuses.
“I think of it as an example of the ongoing ways in which the college looks to connect with as much of its audience as it can. We’re a community college and our mission is to be a resource for all of the citizens in our district,” Tinker said.
In the program’s first year, the teams from Colorado Mountain College, Red Canyon and Battle Mountain all participated in a game called Rocket League. Rocket League, which is big enough to have had some of its major competitions broadcast on ESPN2, is a multi-player game in which two teams compete in a game of soccer with rocket-powered cars. Each school had a team of three players, with substitutes where needed.
“Playing with other [Colorado Mountain College] students was liberating, in a sense. We got to see that the enjoyment of video games, esports and competing together doesn’t stop when we get our diplomas,” said Ryan Long, senior and captain of the Battle Mountain esports team. “As far as playing with my classmates goes, I got to know them better. Esports is going to take off and I felt incredibly privileged to be involved with this club.”
While the teams competed with their leagues throughout the year, the schools ended the year in a multi-week local Rocket League tournament. In the end, the CMC Edwards contingent took home the gold, followed by Battle Mountain, Red Canyon and Spring Valley.
In a year in which the social and emotional lives of students took a big hit, these esports programs have allowed students to continue socializing safely. Students were able to come in and use the school’s PCs if needed, but due to the pandemic, many students were able to participate on their personal machines at home.
“It brought a sense of normalcy back into my life,” Long said. “With everything being shut down and many of the projects of [the Technology Student Association] being completely halted, having esports gave me and my teammates something to do. Being in lockdown would have been much more challenging if I wasn’t able to compete.”
Not only do these programs create a social opportunity for students, but it could also open up future opportunities in digital media and help teach student’s real-life skills. This is because as it has grown, esports has become more than just playing the games. It has grown to include opportunities such as radio and broadcasting, the creation of graphics for the streams and broadcasts, videography and more.
While the program is in its inaugural year — and hit a few pandemic-related speed bumps — it has a bright future ahead. Not only would Tinker like to see the program be expanded to every Colorado Mountain College campus and Eagle County High School, but the schools hope to host in-person events next year as well as continue to develop the teams.
Games from this year’s Rocket League tournament — as well as future tournaments and matches — can be watched on twitch.tv/esportsCMC.