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E-Sports makes Dawson County debut
A screenshot from the video game Rocket League - a high-speed mix of cars and soccer.

Announced by Athletic Director Jason Gibson at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, competitive video gaming, known as e-sports is becoming a reality in Dawson County with competition scheduled to begin during the first week of February.

“We wanted to make sure we were offering the same activities as the other schools in our area,” Gibson said. “E-sports has become very popular, so it was only a matter of time. I think it is a neat addition to our programs.”

For the upcoming spring season, students will compete against each other in two player-versus-player (PvP) team-format games, League of Legends and Rocket League and, although it is easy to think of e-sports as simply playing video games, the emphasis is on strategy, teamwork and communication with the teams exhibiting the best of all three quickly rising to the top.

 Unique to the world of e-sports, there is no travel as the teams will operate from a central location and compete in a virtual arena hosted by PlayVS, the official high school esports league. 

Gibson estimates more than 20 students have already registered to participate in the inaugural season and that number will increase as the January 27 deadline approaches.

“I have been approached by kids from across the spectrum, football kids, basketball kids, kids that don’t necessarily play any sports,” Gibson said. “I don’t think we will have any problem filling the team.”

Senior Joey Toal, a multi-sport athlete currently lettering in football, swimming, wrestling and track and field, was among the first to sign up for the team and can barely contain his excitement when he talks about the program.

“I am beside myself that they have made this a sport,” Toal said. “And, as far as I know, they are treating it like any other varsity sport.”

Toal specializes in Rocket League, a game that is a fast-paced game he describes as “soccer with cars” and will be a member of a three-man team along with Eli Bearden and Daniel Brock. The trio has been playing together for more than a year and Toal feels confident that they have a winning strategy heading into the first season.

“We have worked a lot on our rotation, making sure that we always have one of us in the right spot,” Toal said. “That way if the other team should get behind us, we have somebody in the back that can get the stop.”

Dawson County Junior High School health and P.E. teacher Johnathan Tinsley was named as the team’s head coach. Tinsley brings over 20 years of coaching experience to the program but admits that this is an entirely new adventure.

“I'm excited and nervous about Esports.  I have coached sports for 22 years is Dawson County, but this will be a different creature,” Tinsley said. “I look forward to the season and learning with the kids.”

Currently, 41 schools across Georgia offer e-sports and the events are subject to regulation by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) much like all other sports. There will be two seasons per year, fall and spring, with regional playoffs at the end of each season and a state tournament at the end of the year with Pickens County High School reigning as the current state champions.

“Sports are amazing, but athletic type sports are not for everybody,” Toal said. “This gives the opportunity to all kids to come out and play for their school.”

One of the fastest growing trends in the United States, electronic sports has an avid following that routinely exceeds tens of millions of fans who tune into events via online platforms such as Twitch, and prize money for some of the bigger events can reach astronomical levels.

The 2017 League of Legends world championship reported over 63 million viewers tuned into the event from around the globe and awarded a grand prize of $1,000,000 to the winning team. 

Additionally, over 200 colleges and universities currently offer scholarships in esports and are actively recruiting players from across the country. Toal is among the many students nationwide considering a scholarship to play video sports at the collegiate level with an offer from USC Sumter already on the table and his advice to others looking into the idea of e-sports is “just go for it.”

“I used the same kind of strategy as I did for football,” Toal said. “I sent an e-mail to the school’s coach, and then some film clips and we talked. You never know what is going to happen.”