With the recent news of the PlayVS & Epic Games partnership that will bring Fortnite to the high school and college sports scene, the question must be asked: What will school sponsored gaming events look like? One thing that I feel like hasn’t been discussed enough in the aftermath of this announcement, is the fact that it isn’t technically a sport for the high school or college in the same way traditional sports teams are. For this Fortnite league, schools can have as many teams as they want competing for the same trophy, something that would be absolutely unheard of in any of the other current sports. And not only are the teams not truly representing the high school, the league isn’t regulated by any sort of state committee in the same way that traditional sports are in every other school in the nation.
My biggest issue with this partnership, is that it is hardly legitimate. The events will not be regulated by the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations), rather will be after-school clubs with their own Fortnite teams, instead of actual sports teams. A school’s Fortnite team would essentially be the same as it’s math team, or chess club… a bunch of people who agree that they like the game, meeting up after school on certain days and playing Fortnite against a neighboring school. This sort of thing cannot draw comparisons to traditional sports, as there is no try-out or skill requirement to play, just the desire to play video games.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that esports should be in high schools, and be treated as a real sport, considering how well it is doing in any of its games or events. What I think this deal looks like though, is a for-profit startup company trying to make a quick buck. Charging $64/player just to be placed into the league, while the only fees for traditional sports is to cover maintenance costs, is kind of ridiculous. The NFHS should never have allowed this sort of deal to get through; a company exploiting high schools for profit without any real regional gain. A team that can say they won a championship in their state, or that they are the best team in their county/school district, will be much more well-regarded than one who played random teams from across the country, who none of the student body knows except maybe the players.
The future of esports as a structured, regulated, local high school event is without a doubt in the near future, however this is most definitely not it. If schools are really interested, they need to bring it up at their state athletic meetings and let the real NFHS figure out how to structure a gaming league from state to state to make it a legitimate sport. After all, buying a couple gaming computers or consoles to put in a pre-existing classroom is a hell of a lot cheaper than building an entire baseball field, or maintaining a football/soccer field, and will use a fraction of the electricity required to keep the lights on for the many sports that use outdoor facilities.