Esports expanding in Shawano County schools

Shawano, Bonduel programs take video game skills from home to the next level
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Video games, once seen as the antithesis of children’s growth, are now a competitive program in schools.

In recent years, schools have come together to enable competition and sportsmanship in a new way as esports is becoming more commonplace. Even without an athletic component, programs are encouraging students to work together and form friendships that they might not be able to do at other school activities.

Esports programs are even in rural Shawano County, with teams set up in Shawano and Bonduel high schools that could spread to even younger generations. Shawano’s program has been in existence for six years, with a couple of state titles to their credit. A couple of weeks ago, Shawano was fourth out of 33 schools in the league.

“We’ve got some really good players, which is kind of cool,” said Cory Bougie, esports coach at Shawano Community High School. “They got an anonymous donation that provided us with 10 computers. They’ve got the computers, they’ve got headsets, and it’s all geared toward gaming.”

Bonduel’s program only started two years ago, with the team sitting at 12th out of the 33 schools. According to the school’s coach, John Seroogy, the team is playing in winter and spring but is looking at developing a fall program, too.

“We wanted to get students more involved in school with all of these technology upgrades,” Seroogy said. “It’s crazy to see how far it has come.”

Among the competitions are the nationally known Fortnite, a survival game where players battle to be the last person standing, but there’s also the Rocket League, where players are souped-up vehicles engaged in an arcade-style soccer competition.

Even though the esports competitions are with Wisconsin high schools, SCHS is in talks with a company that’s trying to organize national competitions, according to Bougie.

Bougie noted that, like any other school activity, players have to keep their grades up and not be in trouble with teachers and administrators.

“Then they just get to come in here and play,” Bougie said. “They take a lot of the skills they have from home, and then they get into groups of three. What’s really cool is all of these matches get livestreamed, so you see a livestream, especially the Fortnite matches that we play on Wednesdays.”

Like other competitive events, there are announcers to give play-by-play accounts on the esports competitions, and some SCHS students are looking at becoming announcers themselves.

“We have our YouTube channel for the school, and I just talked to tech (Shawano School District technology department) today, and we’re going to get these matches onto the channel,” Bougie said. “This will be available to more people, and they’ll be able to watch matches at home. Their parents can be at home watching these matches, or their friends could be watching these matches and cheering these guys from afar, which is pretty cool.”

Seroogy noted that some of the Bonduel students have the potential to be announcers, too.

Bougie has coached athletic programs like football, soccer and basketball, and the excitement from esports competitions is no different from those where fans assemble in a gym or stadium to see athletes perform, in his view.

“You get the same adrenaline rush. There’s still the same competition and kind of the nerve you have to have to play it,” Bougie said.

Esports has grown so that even colleges have teams, Bougie said, which means students have the chance to get college scholarships based on their gaming talents.

“There are full-ride scholarships to college,” Bougie said. “We want to give our students more opportunities. We want to open as many doors as we can at the school.”

Besides opening a new door on competition, esports also can serve as an opportunity for students cast by classmates as outsiders to find a community where they belong, according to Bougie.

“Having esports at a school, for 45% of students enrolled in esports, this was their first and only social club they’d ever been in,” he said, citing national statistics. “It’s giving those opportunities. This is their niche. This is something they’re really good at and enjoy, and they might not be in anything else socially.”

Bougie added that academic grades went up for 30-45% of students participating in esports.

The esports programs help to level up students who have previously played just at home. With the equipment, not to mention better internet access than can be obtained in rural homes, the students get to expand their skills, Bougie said.

Seroogy isn’t surprised by the popularity of esports, noting that 97% of boys and 80% of girls have played video games at some level.

“These students have really put a lot into it,” Seroogy said. “Some of them have 100-200 hours into it.”

Esports mania has gone beyond playing games at Bonduel High School. The excitement has the school’s graphic design program involved, according to Seroogy.

“The graphic design students are making a logo for us to use,” he said.