Area leaders are expanding access to esports training, whether that means preparing kids for careers in the billion-dollar competitive gaming industry or finding new ways to build community among players.

This fall, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD will expand its high school esports program to middle schools, Chief Technology Officer Kyle Berger said.

In a separate initiative, Grapevine Public Library is opening an all-ages Esports Academy this summer for similar skill-building and mentorship, according to Chris Woodward, Grapevine’s technology librarian.

“If we can ... bridge the gap between the way our kids live and the way they learn, then we succeed in ...[reaching] our kids and building for the future,” Berger said. “This [is] one of those pathways.”

Beyond gaming

Because esports is not organized at the high school level in Texas, GCISD teams compete in a state league regulated by PlayVS, a company founded in 2018 with the goal of establishing a structured, varsity-style experience for students who want to progress from high school esports teams to college and professional teams.

“That’s a really built-out pipeline [in traditional sports] that was missing in esports,” said PlayVS brand and community director Alinn Louv.

GCISD esports players have been scouted by colleges, and students in the program have gotten to meet with developers at game studios and tech companies to give feedback on games and equipment design. Those professional opportunities are facilitated by the district’s partnership with Dell.

The GCISD program also incorporates exercise, nutrition, digital citizenship, personal branding and other skills important for success in esports and the professional world. Woodward said the Grapevine Public Library facility will provide training and oversight for people who do not have school access to esports.

“The library sees an opportunity to aid in closing an accessibility gap that exists due to the high price tag,” Woodward said.

A $75,000 grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission will cover what Woodward called the core infrastructure of competitive gaming: high-speed internet and computers and monitors that can handle the data demands of gaming without delays.

People interested in competitive gaming would otherwise have to buy that technology themselves. Laptops and desktops from the product line used by GCISD teams retail for over $1,000 each, according to Dell.

Getting started and developing as an esports player can be cost-prohibitive for some, but Woodward said libraries can function as an equalizer.

“Libraries are such a fantastic community resource because we can offer these things for free,” he said.

Digital connection

As with any sport, esports provides connection as much as it does the opportunity to develop personal and professional skills.

The GCISD high school teams practice daily and compete weekly in school computer labs against teams in the state league.

Berger said 75%of the students who joined the esports program in its first year did not participate in any other school activities. That matters, he said, because extracurricular activities and mentorship from coaches can help students feel more connected to their school life.

“These players have a mentor. They have a safe space where they can go to after school to build that community [and] to feel involved in school,” Louv said.

The Grapevine Public Library is in the process of recruiting experts to teach classes at its Esports Academy, Woodward said. The library’s programs will be open to anyone with a Grapevine library card.

“I’m looking forward to inviting players of all ages and abilities to experience the academy,” he said.