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Esports programs find gamers to fill high-tech career roles

by Amanda Scott

Technology is continuing to grow, creating a bigger need for those who understand it.

That’s according to one professor at Bellevue University, who said esports programs across the state are gathering talented minds not just to play video games, but to fill important career roles.

In the growing world of competitive video gaming, players have more motivation to stand out than ever before.

They’re battling it out in games like League of Legends, Super Smash Bros., Overwatch and Rocket League, while also fine tuning their reflexes, thinking critically and solving problems all to win a match.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun. A lot of these games that we play are very skill oriented,” said Josh Hughes, esports coach for Amherst Public Schools.

But while they have their favorite champions, it’s not all just fun and games.

“A lot of these students are learning how to play on a team because many of them are team focused and team oriented,” Hughes said.

At a recent esports tournament in Elm Creek, one coach said esports programs have more than doubled in their area since last year, and tournament participation has nearly quadrupled since they brought their first teams together last year.

Coaches also said esports are helping to bring introverted students out of their shells, giving them important life skills for the future.

“We’re fighting the ‘Oh gamers just stay in their basements and do nothing all day,’ it’s more of a gaming can do something productive in society,” said Ryan Hinds, esports coach for Elm Creek Public School.

“A lot of the kids after playing here, they’ll see a kid and go ‘Wow, you were really good, I want to play with you outside of what we’re doing just in our practices,’ so a lot of the kids will actually play together beyond just playing in their practices and these tournaments,” Hinds said.

While working to curb the stigma about gamers, coaches are also putting students on the path to college scholarships and future careers.

“You teach them how to play video games but you also say, ‘Hey you really like video games, what thing, what job do you think that can kind of transfer into?'” Hinds said.

The coaches NTV News spoke with said they’re making their students aware of high-demand careers like cybersecurity, IT, website coding, software development and more.

Bellevue University is helping to lead the pack for esports in Nebraska, even offering scholarships to gamers who compete with them.

“Just like the kid, the fan who played football, baseball, the one who was in the basement playing games has now a chance to pay for their school, get a higher education – whether it’s business administration or any subject there is – and pursue their dreams,” said Samanga Amarasinghe, esports head coach at Bellevue University.

While it takes a special skill set to pursue gaming as a career, some coaches say the odds are better now more than ever.

“There’s actually so many opportunities opening up for that,” Hinds said. So not only can you go on to college and do that, but you can be a professional streamer if you’re good enough at the game and people recognize, ‘Hey you’re pretty good, I like to watch him play and learn from him.'”

Like other sports, scholarship winners are often found by scouts during high school competitions, so coaches say they’re hoping to expand esports to more students as they plan for the future.

“We’re looking for all schools to recognize it as a sport and be able to either offer it to their students or team up with another school and be able to offer that,” Hinds said.

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