Manitoba

High school esport athletes meet for provincial championships in Winnipeg

Video game players from high schools across the province were quick with their fingers Saturday in the first ever Manitoba High School Esports Association Championship.

Organizers say high school video game league part of a growing trend

Dakota Collegiate esport team player Tyler Kavitch and his teammates compete in the first ever Manitoba High School Esports Association Championship in Winnipeg April 27. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Video game players from high schools across the province were quick with their fingers Saturday in the first ever Manitoba High School Esports Association Championship.

Thirteen teams from 11 schools took part, battling it out in the multi-player online game, League of Legends.

The Manitoba High School Esports League launched earlier this year. The championships follow a season that had teams made up of students from Grades 9 to 12 playing back-to-back games every week since March.

"Esports in North America is growing like crazy, and we are getting it going here in Manitoba for our high school esport athletes," said Brian Cameron, principal at the Louis Riel Arts & Technology Centre (LRATC), which hosted Saturday's championships.

Brian Cameron is the principal at the Louis Riel Arts & Technology Centre , which hosted the Manitoba High School Esports Association Championship April 27. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"We think that this is really going to grab kids and give them a venue to compete for their schools that maybe they didn't have before."

The tournament saw each team set up their computers in separate rooms of the LRATC, before squaring off against each other in the digital game space.

The players talk to each other while they play and work together to try to beat the opposing team, explained Dakota Collegiate teacher Marin Kecman, who runs the school's esports squad.

Players from the Dakota Collegiate esports team battle it out during Saturday's championships. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"Each team has five players and it's kind of like soccer where you have kids that are different positions … and they're just fighting each other and trying to win, trying to take the other team's base," he said, while his team battled it out in front of computer screens.

"It's all played online, virtually, against each other."

Just like more traditional high school sports, the winning team of gamers will bring a banner back to hang up at their school, and like the athletes who play those more traditional sports, Kecman says his players have been training for months leading up to the finals.

Marin Kecman, who runs the school’s eSports team, standing, watches his players compete in the tournament. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"We meet twice a week to train and they also train on their own at home against other teams in the division as well as random opponents online," he said.

"The commitment they've shown — the time and effort they're putting into this — they're treating it like a real-life team where you're working together, using communication skills, practicing and just building that community."

As an industry, esports has ballooned in recent years, drawing millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships and bringing thousands of fans to packed arenas from Toronto to Vancouver.

Watching esports online is also a major trend worldwide, with many tournaments offering prizes of millions of dollars, and even post-secondary institutions are getting in on the games.

Thousands of eSports fans filled the Air Canada Centre in August 2016 to attend the League of Legends Championship Series Summer Finals, in Toronto, ON. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo )

The idea for the Manitoba league began after LRATC students started challenging each other online, then eventually brought their friends from other schools into the fold.

Cameron says the inaugural Winnipeg tournament attracted a lot of interest, with new players already signing up to compete in next year's games and local businesses looking at becoming sponsors.

"We are excited about where this is going to go," he said. "I think it's really going to grow."

Winnipeg high school students have found a new way to compete with their rival schools, and they're taking the battles off of the athletic field and into the online world. 2:10

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With files from Holly Caruk and Walther Bernal