Esports in City Schools Teaches More than Video Games

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Charles Stark wanted to do something for students in the Youngstown City School District, seeing how disconnected they had become as COVID-19 forced many into remote learning.

The answer was to commit $86,000 to equip and completely redesign a classroom at East High School with computers, game controllers and large screens dedicated to a new electronic sports – or esports – program, Stark says.

“We’re still at the beginning stages of running the team,” says Stark, the district’s esports program director. “The sky’s the limit for this program,” he adds, noting he has an annual budget of $6,000.

Ultimately, the goal is to expand the program and encourage Chaney High School and Youngstown Early College to form teams of their own, he says.

East’s team – an extension of the athletics department – has 14 students and five coaches that play Overwatch and Rocket League. 

More games will be added and there could be a varsity, junior varsity and two club teams with seven students on each one – all with the potential to join the Esports Ohio league. 

yommer-and-vivar-vega centeno anderson

Gallery images include Dennis Yommer coaching Onesimo Vivar Vega on Overwatch, and Braylun Anderson and Angel Centeno playing Rocket League.

The computers came from ByteSpeed LLC in Minnesota, while the room decals were from RL Smith Graphics in Youngstown. Wayne Mackey, founder of Statespace, which enhances esports athletes through different mediums, donated $46,000 to this YCSD project.

Program coordinator for the English Learners’ program and esports coach Dennis Yommer said numbers could double in the 2022-23 school year when they add popular games such as Super Smash Brothers and Fortnite.

Esports is competitive online gaming.

“When we consider a sport in the traditional sense, there has always been some form of athletic involvement,” Yommer says. “What’s unique about esports is it takes all of the other elements that are defined by a sport and applies them to something that a student can do and participate in on a personal computer, Xbox or PlayStation.”

Responsibility, teamwork, leadership are all important components of the program, as are practicing unity and developing a competitive spirit.

“It’s just with a game that’s played online as opposed to in person,” Yommer says.

He’s not looking at those proficient with these games, but have personality traits or qualities comparable to those in a traditional sport such as football or basketball. 

For Overwatch, there are three separate roles such as the quarterback, running back and wide receiver in football. Only in this case, it’s a tank, support characters and damage characters.

He explains the damage characters need to be outgoing, energetic – having field awareness such as a wide receiver.

The support characters are comparable to running backs and quarterbacks – backfield players that need to know when it’s time to move and pass the ball, he says. Tanks are like an offensive line, giving protection to the rest of the team.

“In order for a scholar to be successful in those roles, they have to possess different qualities or characteristics,” Yommer says. 

East High School senior Braylun Anderson sees the benefits of teamwork, communication and fun, the same things you would see when he plays Rugby for his school. 

This is part of the process of helping him once he leaves high school through teamwork and communication skills.

“When you go into college, you need communication skills,” he says. “If you’re going straight into the workforce and not into college, you still need to know how to work with others that you don’t know, how to get along with people and how to communicate the right way.”

For sophomore Angel Centeno, this helps him communicate better with others.

“I really don’t talk to people,” he says. “Going forward, I’m thinking about changing that.”

Senior Onesimo Vivar Vega has played some competitive video games, but not as intense as esports. These games require those playing to have a good team and communicate with each other. 

He says you can continue to play esports at the collegiate level, teaching the concepts of video games. 

“I want to be a game designer,” Vivar Vega said. “Playing video games more and more often can help me figure out how I want to make my games.”

Stark says his team is also working on building a YouTube Channel and other social media accounts such as Discord and Twitch – or a shoutcaster to broadcast these contests.

“We’ll have students actually announcing our games,” Stark says. “A lot of the games have features where you can go into a spectator mode and you can have a camera swinging around so you can announce these games like on Monday Night Football.

“It’s super cool and that obviously leads into many careers right there.”

Eventually, Stark would like to have students learn how to upgrade and build their own PCs.

“I feel we’re building more in the program, really building a community here,” Stark says. 

Pictured at top: East High esports program include sophomore Angel Centeno, Coach Dennis Yommer, senior Onesimo Vivar Vega, senior Braylun Anderson and Charles Stark, esports program director.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.