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E-Sports Taking Off In Oklahoma High Schools

Union High School students compete in a variety of video games, Photo Courtesy: Union Public Schools

When Union High School in Tulsa distributed a notice to its students this fall encouraging them to check out its esports program, they knew there would be some interest. Little did they know how much interest it would generate.

“We had 350 kids sign up and check it out, which we were not expecting,” said Todd Borland, Union’s Executive Director of Information Technology. “That was a little bit of a shock.”

Borland runs the Oklahoma eSport League (OeSL) and oversees Union’s esports program. The OeSL, which Borland started five years ago, consists of nearly 100 schools, more than 400 teams and over two thousand participants. Teams compete throughout the school year in a variety of games. Championships are held at the end of the fall and spring semesters. Many of the competitions are streamed online on Twitch or other platforms.

The CO-OP gaming center at the University of Central Oklahoma, Photo Courtesy: UCO

The OeSL is the largest esports leagues in Oklahoma. The OSSAA, which claims about 150 teams, held its first-ever esports state championship in April.

The OeSL hosts its fall championships Saturday, December 10th at the UMAC on the Union campus. Students will compete in a variety of games, including Rocket League, Clash Royale, Valorant, Super Smash Brothers and Halo. The event begins at 10 am. Attendance is free.

“Every year we seem to get more and more spectators,” said Borland. “The first year we had a few people come. Last year, we probably had 300-400 people there.”

Studies have shown that for many of its participants, esports is their first extracurricular activity. Students must adhere to a standard code of conduct and be in good academic standing to compete.

“We’ve seen kids that would never hang out before, hanging out and talking,” claimed Borland. “They say hi to each other in the hallway.”

 OeSL, Union Public Schools
The OeSL is Oklahoma’s largest esports league, with more than 100 schools and 2,000 participants, Photo Courtesy: Union Public Schools

“It’s been interesting to see these kids that could have potentially fallen through cracks,” added Borland. “Now there’s someone looking at their grades every week, checking their attendance and their discipline. We’ve seen a lot of benefits.”

In 2021, more than 84 million people watched esports, surpassing all professional sports, with the exception of the NFL.

Borland believes the sky is the limit in terms of how popular esports can become.

“Last year, the League of Legends championship had more viewers than the Super Bowl,” remarked Borland. “And that’s just one game.”

“I get one or two calls every week from Superintendents and IT directors from across the state asking how to start a program,” added Borland. “Seeing the coaches at schools helping each other get started has been really, really cool.”

For more information on esports and the Oklahoma eSports League, go to oesl.org.