Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Bridgeport schools could introduce esports
BRIDGEPORT — Students could soon become competitive videogamers through their schools.
The school board’s Students and Families committee heard a report on Thursday of the district’s sports offerings. Staff discussed a schools partnership with the Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders programs, including an unconventional option: esports.
At one local PreK-8 school, plans are already in motion.
“They’re doing a pilot right now at Columbus School, looking at how the technology works, how to get it all running, well before they kick it out to all the other schools,” said Hermino Planas, the executive director of elementary education.
“They’re hoping to begin that as soon as possible,” he said.
Two cohorts of middle school students at Columbus meet biweekly after school, according to Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders, part of the Greater Bridgeport STEM Learning Ecosystem.
The program is separated into two parts — writing code and building videogames to inspire computer science careers, and usually playing the popular game Rocket League.
Rocket League follows the rules of soccer but with rocket-powered cars. Up to eight players per side work together to score goals and rack up points for their team. Later updates allowed for a variety of sports game-modes, from ice hockey to basketball.
“It helps them on the critical thinking piece, because you’ve got to think ahead what your opponent might do,” John Torres, the executive director of Caribe, told Hearst Connecticut.
Torres also added that Rocket League is a team sport that brings students together.
“It’s a lot about building trust with one another, and then knowing that they’re working together on a common objective — which is to get that ball into another opponent’s net,” he said.
Rocket League is one of several videogames to be adopted by collegiate and professional leagues in the United States and abroad.
The Rocket League Championship Series 2021-22 season has a prize pool of $6 million — its largest to date.
The school district and Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders still have several details to work out, like how to support the game’s bandwidth requirements, and navigate school internet blocks while they “make sure it’s safe for the kids,” Planas said.
But he, as well as other Bridgeport and Caribe staff, noted the benefits of the program, from the opportunity to get involved in sports to its relevance in the higher education space.
“Esports is huge in college. Colleges are now opening esports as an athletic area. They’re even giving scholarships to students,” Planas said.
Sacred Heart, an early participant in the esports trend in Connecticut, launched an interdisciplinary minor last fall and hosted the state’s first college showcase in April. More recently, a recent graduate landed himself a contract with a professional gaming management company through the school.
The University of New Haven offers a bachelor of science in esports and gaming, and Yale and UConn also have esports teams. The University of Bridgeport announced earlier this month its own addition by the fall of 2022.
Bridgeport public schools could be headed in that direction of competitive gaming.
“Once we’re up to speed, the goal is we’re going to compete against other clubs,” Torres said.
Torres said he envisions college students, who serve as general managers, as leaders of the program. High school students can get involved too, and also earn stipends, by working as assistants and mentoring the younger students.
Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders plans to restart a similar initiative that ran this summer at Geraldine Claytor Magnet Academy, and possibly add another school or two. Those programs could launch by January.