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Students are building future-ready skills through competitive video gaming

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A group of students has been earning state and national recognition and building future-ready skills since starting an esports club at Burnsville High School last fall. 

Esports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competitive multiplayer video gaming. The industry has grown exponentially over the last several years, with more than 230 million people playing esports worldwide and another 200 million who watch esports. Nearly 200 U.S. colleges have their own esports teams, and there are even professional teams. 

esports team participating in competition

“It’s a really large community that people don’t quite know about. That’s one thing I like about it,” BHS senior and esports club president Simon Palmer said. “I can walk around and see someone wearing a jersey for a team and talk to them about the games. It allows you to meet a ton of new people.”

Palmer and his teammates Chase Rennich, Thaven Ung and Jacob Westerlund quickly made names for themselves among high school esports players when earlier this year they won the High School Esports League Call of Duty Vanguard Spring Major. The team received $2,000 in scholarship money and trophies. It went on to place fourth at nationals. Palmer and Rennich will both attend the University of North Dakota this fall on esports scholarships. 

The BHS Rocket League team, featuring Diego McCollum, Kobe Thao, Josh Westerlund and Jack Frame, placed second at the Minnesota Varsity League state tournament June 5 at the Mall of America.

“What I see just by watching them is they learn all different types of skill sets. They’re showing managing ability, collaboration, applying their past experiences, and they’re learning different roles as captains and coaches. They’re learning how to work through glitches, how to record, how to make YouTube channels,” esports advisor and BHS teacher Cindy Drahos said. “It has been amazing to see the number of college recruiters seeking out this team to play for their college. Esports can open up new opportunities and be a vehicle to be able to pursue higher ed and engage in new skills they can use in the workforce.”

“You have to learn team building. It’s a mental game, not a physical game, so you have to learn to control the mental part of it and work with your teammates extremely well,” Palmer said. 

Palmer started gaming when he was stuck at home during the early stages of the pandemic. When he started to take it more seriously, he decided to recruit some friends and try to launch a club at BHS. He reached out to Drahos, who was advisor for a gaming club, put out a message about esports on the school announcements, and even held a meeting to talk to parents about the benefits of esports. The group started with 10 members and has grown to 25 this year. 

“It’s amazing to see the commitment on the students’ side,” Drahos said. “It’s wonderful to see the collaboration of the team members and how dedicated they are to the game and the learning. I’m very proud of the team as a whole and the interest we’re building here at BHS. It’s pretty cool.”

Palmer hopes the club will continue to grow and provide opportunities for students in the coming years.

“My biggest thing is I hope it’s able to continue once I graduate. All the Rocket League players who were the No. 1 seed at state are around next year, so I’m hoping they can keep it going for me,” he said. 

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