Orange County’s high school e-sports league is leveling up.
After a successful pilot season that crowned a Fountain Valley High team as its first champion, OC’s competitive gaming league is changing its name to the North America Scholastic Esports Federation and will focus on helping schools across the country establish their own scholastic leagues and tournaments.
“Millions of teenagers are playing e-sports in their free time, leading many parents and educators to wonder how to infuse positive elements into the outrageously popular video game community and culture,” said Dr. Constance Steinkuehler, professor of Informatics at UC Irvine and the federation’s education and research lead.
“The new North America Scholastic Esports Federation will provide schools with the tools they need to give teens a complete experience that combines the fun of gaming with deeply embedded education on relevant real-world skills,” she said.
Nearly 40 teams from 25 local high schools participated in the Orange County High School Esports League, which kicked off its inaugural season in January. Funded by the Samueli Foundation, the venture was designed to mix education with gaming, and it represented a collaboration that included the Orange County Department of Education, researchers from UC Irvine, UCI Esports and other partners.
Over the course of three months, teams battled it out in weekly matches, playing the online action-strategy game League of Legends. A squad from Fountain Valley High School ultimately won the championship in April, defeating a team from La Quinta High in Westminster.
Organizers say enthusiasm from students, parents and teachers led to the creation of the new Esports Federation, which has developed a research-based system that will be shared with schools across North America.
Orange County’s model includes near-peer coaches to help build social-emotional skills and a positive gaming culture, and mentorships to promote crucial 21st-century skills in communication, collaboration and teamwork. Moreover, career-focused workshops incorporate engineering, technology and entrepreneurship while improving gameplay.
A new high school English Language Arts curriculum will also combine reading and writing skills with esports lessons, STEM instruction and elements of Career Technical Education.
“Approximately 91 percent of our kids have an interest in video games,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares said. “The power of these games when used to teach and learn core content is phenomenal. I hope that other districts across the country will see the potential impacts and adopt this powerful system to deeply engage their students in the fun of learning.”
Gerald Solomon, executive director of the Samueli Foundation, said the first season exceed his expectations.
“It was awesome to see young minds so engaged and having so much fun at the Finals tournament, and to hear from teachers and principals about how the league is increasing student engagement and enthusiasm for school,” Solomon said. “We are thrilled to take this opportunity to the rest of North America. What a fantastic way to connect play and learning, sports and education, to help kids grow, thrive, and be the best that they can be.”