ST. LOUIS — Spending countless hours on a video game is something that used to be frowned upon, or in some cases, still is. But with the way things are shaping up, kids may not want to drop those controllers just yet. Their future could depend on it.
"Esports, in general, is such a welcoming community," CBC senior Jake Cole said.
Welcoming enough to show it in its numbers.
"Students response to the Esports initiative around the place have been overwhelmingly popular," Dj Demongey, the director of Esports at CBC said.
The turnout was similar at Francis Howell Central.
"I was really excited," senior Tyler Belina said.
The sport has multiplied by the seasons making it nearly impossible to play solo.
"The atmosphere is exhilarating," Cole said.
"We went from 20 the first year to about 80 the second year because we expanded from two games to eight games," Francis Howell Esports sponsor Kris Miller said.
It's not all fun in games though. Esports has allowed students to play competitively challenging their minds and taking them to the next level.
"You can make the game so strategic and it's about the teamwork you have to put in to succeed," Francis Howell gamer, Ryan Caudillo said. "Because it's not all about one player, it's not about how good you are, it's how good you are as a team.
For Belina, Esports provides kids who don't play traditional sports, a chance to compete as a unit. With the same goal as other teams, win state. This is exactly what Francis Howell Central did in a popular video game called Overwatch.
"It was really great," Belina said. "Being able to say we won the state championship was an honor and pleasure to say and kind of being above the sports players a little bit, like, ha, funny, we actually won the state championship."
Demongey said winning titles is just the beginning phase of a league with so many gaming levels.
"Now that it's 2021, there are so many programs that offer scholarships and it ranges down from 1,000 to 2,000 dollars over at the club level where, hey we're just trying to test the waters and see how viable this is, all the way up to full-rides where, hey we're actually competing for national championships, we're competing for world championships," Demongey said.
"Right now we're at a place where Esports is still growing and we've had a lot of offers in the last 2-3 years of our program, we have over half a million dollars in offers easily for scholarships for Esports," Miller said.
A coach after school but a guidance counselor by day, Miller said perhaps the biggest benefit to Esports, is the face-to-face interaction solo gamers often avoid.
"Before you were able to go back and just unplug and just say okay that person made me angry, I'm never going to talk to them again," Miller said describing how individual play allows players to avoid their problems. "Now they have to come back the next day if they had a conflict and work through those team problems and make sure they're communicating on a different level."
Although on two different teams, Cole and Caudillo agree, Esports has given them another outlet to be themselves and to reach new heights.
"I can be a lot more personable with people now, I'm able to lead people better," Caudillo said.
"It's taught me to be a leader because I never wanted to lead, I never thought of myself as a leader, but taking the role as captain definitely made me get more experience with leading," Cole said.