BERNE — After getting the board of education’s approval to hold an interest meeting, Berne-Knox-Westerlo teacher William Dergosits is hoping to develop a competitive video-game program at the school, where kids will practice their skills, develop strategies, and eventually go for gold in a state or national tournament.
Dergosits teaches third grade at the elementary school in Berne, where he’s worked for more than 15 years as an educator.
He hopes that a video-game program will help reach a “hidden demographic” of students who typically don’t participate in extracurricular activities like sports, music, and theater.
“As an educator … I have to be aware that every child has their own set of interests and ambitions,” Dergosits told The Enterprise in an email. “Esports is extremely new to me but it’s something the students are passionate about and it’s obvious [it] will help reach those students in the hidden demographic.”
While the initiative probably seems outlandish to those who grew up when video games were widely seen as antithetical to success and motivation in the youth, they have the potential to develop the same skills parents hope their children will develop on the football field or from piano lessons.
“[Like] traditional sports, esports require students to engage in teamwork, collaboration, and communication in order to be successful in competitions,” said Stephanie Carty, lead coordinator for Esports Service at the Northeastern Regional Information Center.
NERIC, based in Albany, works with schools to supply technologies that support and further education in area classrooms.
“Students interested in gaming often have an interest in STEM/STEAM, which play an increasingly important role in our lives,” said Michael Leczinsky, a professor of practice in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity at UAlbany. He is also the head coach and director of the school’s esports program.
“In addition to the launch of our new team and purpose built gaming arena,” Leczinsky continued, “I will be teaching the University’s first class in eSports this Spring. This course compliments many of our current offerings, exploring areas such as 3D Printing, Makerspaces, Drones, AR/VR, cybersecurity, coding and other emerging technologies.”
With the interest meeting concluded, the next step for Dergosits is investigating the school’s hardware, and then building a team and practice schedule, according to the presentation he showed the board in November.
What are esports?
Video games have always been a booming industry, but competitive video games in particular have recently surged in value, with a projected revenue of $1.3 billion by the end of 2020, according to video-games analytics firm Newzoo.
The money comes from sponsors and marketers who take advantage of the massive esports viewership. Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Business predicts the number of people who watch esports will by 2021 outpace those who watch all traditional sports leagues but the NFL.
The viewers tune in not through their television, but online, where tournaments are streamed through the website Twitch, which Amazon purchased for nearly $1 billion, and others.
These streamed tournaments mirror traditional sports events with arenas, announcers, analysts, reporters, coaches, fans, and star athletes.
Peter Dager is one of the industry’s top players and, at 28, has earned more than $3 million playing games like Defense of the Ancients, or Dota, competitively.
Although the odds of reaching that level of success are as slim as they are for physical athletes, esports talent can still pay off for those who take it up as a hobby.
The University at Albany and The College of Saint Rose are two of many higher education institutions that now offer scholarships for esports players, or have built esports facilities, said Carty.
Dergosits, though, sees competitive gaming as more than a practical opportunity for students.
“For me, video games were a way to connect with my peers while away at college and later on as we moved on with our lives,” he said.
Dergosits explained that he doesn’t play games very often these days, instead spending his free time outdoors or racing cars on the circuit. But he doesn’t view those hobbies as distinct.
“I race because it is a great time I get to spend with my friends,” he explained. “It challenges me mentally and is just a lot of fun. In the same way, video games are like that to many students.”
When asked if he thought the popular notion of gaming as a frivolous way and uninteresting way to spend downtime is changing, Dergosits was hopeful.
“There will be some that don’t understand it or wonder why … [but] I do believe that image is changing daily,” he said. “As the adults who grew up with games get older, they understand the importance those games played in their lives and the role they play with the current youth.”