Esports program coming to Edmonton's Vimy Ridge Academy this fall
First of its type at an Alberta junior high, director says
The growing popularity of esports has caught the attention of Edmonton school Vimy Ridge Academy.
In September, the school will launch an esports academy for students in grades 7 to 9 looking to enter the world of competitive video games.
Esports, a form of competition using online video gaming, has turned into a booming billion-dollar industry.
Players can win thousands of dollars in prizes at competitions around the world. Live competitions for games like League of Legends sell out stadiums like Madison Square Garden.
Video game enthusiast Travis Bouchard, program director for the esports academy, has been working to make it a reality for over a year.
"You just see it growing and growing, you see colleges with scholarship programs," Bouchard said.
"Esports teams have these managers, psychologists and nutritionists. And there's such a big ecosystem growing that some time last year we talked about getting this thing off the ground."
It will be the first junior high school program of its kind in Alberta, Bouchard said.
The curriculum is still being designed, but it will be similar to other Vimy Ridge sports programs, with dedicated time to play during the day.
Playing video games at school does come with some stigma, but Bouchard said once parents start learning more about the world and the opportunities, their minds have been changed.
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"Once you start talking about a game that just gave out $45 million in tournament earnings last year, or the fact that there was $15 million of scholarships given out in 2019," Bouchard said
"Once you start having those conversations then things start coming into place, right? So the thought of esports just being for, you know, casually sitting on the couch, that's an outdated thought now."
The Alberta Esports Association was established to develop the industry in the province.
Association president Vic Ly said many Alberta players who find success need to move to Asia or the United States to compete professionally.
Esports programs have recently started at Keyano College, SAIT, Lethbridge College and Mount Royal University.
"We're starting to see a lot of the institutions and a lot of leadership bodies start to recognize esports as being a more legitimate type of activity, especially as the momentum grows and the economy grows globally," Ly said.
"There's certainly a lot of stigma around esports still and frankly, around the video game industry as a whole. But I think, you know, money talks, the social impact talks, and so we're starting to see a lot of support growing for this now."
Vimy Ridge is currently recruiting students. Some have already registered for September.