Esports gains popularity as local schools create teams for video gamers

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MONTELLO, Wis. - To many, video gaming can look like a kid wasting time, but the Montello School District is capitalizing on it as a sport.

"Our tagline at the end of our broadcasts is, 'Esports: It's not just gaming, it's opportunity,'" said David Lockstein, Montello's IT director and esports advisor.

Montello has seven high school students on the varsity team and 13 middle school students on the junior varsity team, who are all competing in the Wisconsin High School Esports Association's fall season, where they challenge other schools in the game Overwatch.

"You're pretty much doing the same thing as a sport. You're getting to know new people, you're doing something you love, you're using teamwork and critical thinking," said varsity player Tabitha Fiedler, the only female in the Montello program.

Lockstein says it takes the skills needed in traditional sports to the next level.

"This is kind of like playing those traditional sports when you're working with your team, but then also there's a level of strategy that it requires, kind of like chess, to be able to maneuver and defend or to attack a position," he said.

But it's not just for fun.

In the last two years Montello has competed, four students were offered college scholarships for gaming.

"Everybodys like, 'Woah! Hey, we probably should capitalize on this, it's another opportunity for our kids that we didn't have before,'" said Lockstein.

Other schools are quickly realizing this too.

Locally, Edgewood High School just began its first official season this fall with about 30 students in the club.

Wisconsin Dells High School principal Hugh Gaston, who calls himself an avid gamer, is excited to bring the idea before the school board in the next few months. He said the school can easily fill a varsity and junior varsity team in the spring.

And Sun Prairie High School is looking for an adviser, planning to launch next school year.

Lockstein said when Montello joined WIHSEA in early 2018, it was the ninth team, but now there are more than 30 teams and about 80 more interested in getting involved.

He calls esports this generation's NFL.