High school esport athletes meet for provincial championships in Winnipeg
Organizers say high school video game league part of a growing trend
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
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."
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With files from Holly Caruk and Walther Bernal