WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Esports is gaining popularity within Wichita Public Schools. It may soon become one of the most desired extracurricular activities.

“It’s exploding all over the United States, really,” said Wichita Public Schools IT Specialist Clint Dayhuff. “Just like it is growing nationally, we are going to grow it in our district. We want to be the midwest hub for esports. We want to host tournaments. We want as many kids as possible to get to experience the benefits of this.”

How it started

Clint Dayhuff is one of the staff members spear heading the esports program within the district.

“I used lots of gaming in my classroom, and so, I just noticed how good kids did, how engaged they were whenever I was teaching them through gaming and so with the support from Rob (Rob Dickson, WPS Chief Information Officer), we just started building this,” Dayhuff explained.

The district introduced the gaming competition into one high school during the 2019-2020 school year. There are now junior varsity and varsity teams in five high schools and pilot programs in four middle schools.

West High School has about 30 participants.

“The size of our esports team at West makes us one of the largest athletic programs we’ve got, so that’s really really cool to see. The kids are very excited about it,” said West High School esports coach Nicholas Green.

The esports “hook”

“What we love about it the most is kids are learning how to solve real-world problems through games which is the real hook for us,” said Dayhuff.

Dayhuff said a majority of the esports athletes are new to after-school activities.

“If you look at the data nationwide, you are seeing, you are getting a kid who a lot of times has not been in a traditional sport and so they are getting those benefits, being on a team, learning how to work as a team, work with others and you know this is a lot of times, not the traditional athlete who is playing football or basketball,” he explained.

West High junior Kim Le at esports practice.

Kim Le is a former tennis player and swimmer. She is now one of West High School’s esports varsity team captains.

“I am not the best at swim and tennis so like I wanted to be good at something and this was something I could do well and be proud of on my college application, so there are a lot of benefits to joining,” said Le.

Colleges are paying students to play esports

Le is one of many Wichita students looking to score in the esports realm after high school.

“There are so many colleges wanting to give you money to play for their team and like I am just happy that we can start the foundation for people to join this and start getting those scholarships,” Le explained.

“I have discussions set up with our students and college recruiters because they are actually being recruited to play games,” said Dayhuff.

Dayhuff said college recruiters have their eyes on other esports specialties too.

“There is everything from video editors and website designers. There’s a lot more to it than just gaming,” he said.

“They are finally able to convince people that all this time they spent is paying off in not only the form of achievement and a lot of self-worth that comes along with that and some extracurricular activities and an increase in GPA, but also they are getting real offers from colleges for scholarships,” said Southeast High School esports coach.

Esports are sports

The esports teams within the district are just like any other sports team. They have tryouts, they practice, and they compete.

“As teams, we run plays, we will set up specific scenarios within the training matches, and they will practice those over and over and over again so that way those things become second nature in the game,” said Green.

Green said he takes his teams through a 30-minute warm-up at the beginning of each practice. From there, the athletes dive into strategy, tactics, and communication.

“Practice, it’s two hours long of just pure gaming, so it can take a toll on our bodies,” said Le.

Similar to film, the players undergo match reviews with their teammates and coach.

“We will stream these matches together, and we will talk about the good things they did and the bad things they did and how they can improve in the next match,” Green said.

Evolving and expanding

In just a year of play, WPS has made a name for itself in the esports world.

Southeast High School’s esports team recently competed in three national competitions taking two first-place finishes and one-third place finish.

One of the West High School teams is currently ranked 17th in the nation.

In 2021, the district opened its first esports arena with 70 computers where students and teams can gather to practice and compete.

The goal is to expand into more high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools in the future.