High school video gamers in Connecticut recognized as athletes - WFSB 3 Connecticut

High school video gamers in Connecticut recognized as athletes

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MADISON, CT (WFSB) -

Connecticut is the first state in the nation to recognize e-sports, making student athletes out of a percentage of students that may often be overlooked.

Jeffrey Lehmann, Shu Dong and Jaret Ostop said there was no such thing as an e-sports team when they entered Daniel Hand High School in Madison for the first time.

When they graduated next year, they'll be able to say they were part of the inaugural team.

"It’s pretty exciting to enjoy that for my senior year," Lehmann said.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference made moves to offer e-sports the same way they offer football, basketball, soccer and track.

"Maybe not now, but someday soon [being] as big as football and soccer is a really good feeling," Ostop said.

"Absolutely it’s a skill, because these e-sports are team based, some are individual based so if you have a sport that’s like team chess, that is engaging your strategy, teamwork," said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools.

Taking its cures from colleges with teams and seeing how the sport is growing on a professional level, the CIAC said it realized it needed to jump on it.

Back in September, officials made the pitch to a room full of representatives from schools all over the state. It emerged with a gameplan.

Next spring, schools will have teams assembled.

"If we can grab another group of kids that maybe aren’t connected already in their school, and really help them thrive, we’re going to do it," Niehoff said.

They'll compete against other Connecticut schools.

They'll start with two games, Overwatch and League of Legends.

Channel 3 went to Daniel Hand High School to watch the athletes in action.

Their eyes were focused, legs were thumping and mouses were clicking.

Lehmann, Dong and Ostop worked as a team to protect their "nexis" while attacking the nexis of their opponents.

"There seems to be a lot of strategy in it," Ostop said. "You have to know where to go, where to focus your efforts, when to engage and when to back off."

Lehmann, who is co-chair of the e-sports club, explained what he's looking for in a teammate.

"We also want a good communicator," he said. "Probably someone who is willing to accept criticism."

There's no denying the team aspect of League of Legends. The game is synched and players said they can rely on each other just like members of a five-person basketball team.

"The individuals have to be good along with the team," Lehmann said.

The popularity is also undeniable. Roughly 25 million people tuned in to watch the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year's NBA finals.

Meanwhile, 32 million around the world tuned in to watch the League of Legends World Championships in 2013. The record could be broken as the games are televised on ESPN.

"You’d ask someone maybe 20 years ago about video games and they’d look at you like you’re lazy," Ostop said. "It’s like a multi-billion dollar industry nowadays."

Just like players are trained to be professionals in basketball, the same is being done in e-sports.

Tyler Schrodt is the CEO of the Electronic Gaming Federation, which is considered the NCAA of e-sports.

"Our goal is to help create that same career path you see in traditional sports, in e-sports, between our high school, college league and our relationships with a lot of the pro teams," Schrodt said.

That gives inspiration for players like Ostop. He said he wants to be a graphic designer. However, he can now dream of playing on a higher level.

"It’s there, it’s coming and it’s a lot bigger than most people realize," he said.

The sky is the limit as the sport continues to grow.

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