Some Fairfax County student athletes won’t be headed to courts or fields this winter, but instead, to computer labs, as the 10th largest school district in the country prepares to launch an esports program.
The Fairfax County Public Schools athletic director detailed the new initiative to Tysons Reporter, saying the new program will connect students in high schools through a popular, soccer-like game — in which players drive futuristic cars — called Rocket League.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for our students,” said Bill Curran, director of the FCPS Office of Student Activities and Athletics, noting how students will have another way to fit in. “I think we’re going to have 25 highly competitive schools in the esports realm.”
While concerns about students’ screen time have persisted, even as the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to adopt virtual learning, competitive online gaming has become increasingly popular, with both high schools and colleges getting in on the esports action.
The market research firm Newzoo reported in March that esports viewership increased from nearly 398 million people globally in 2019 to nearly 436 million in 2020 and could potentially reach 474 million this year.
The NCAA governing board voted in April 2019 against bringing esports under its purview, even as the association noted the rapid growth of esports on NCAA campuses.
“You’re going to see this ball roll faster and faster,” Curran said.
ESPN launched a new initiative to cover esports in 2016, though it shut the division down last year. In 2018, it became the first TV network to air a professional gaming contest in prime time for the cartoon-style multiplayer online battle game League of Legends.
YouTube and Twitch have also streamed content that’s worth billions of dollars and expected to grow annually, though that’s just a small slice of the video game industry.
The Virginia High School League, which governs sports, activities, and competitions in public schools throughout the Commonwealth, introduced esports as a pilot program in 2019 before approving it as an “emerging activity” for the 2020-2021 school year that could become sanctioned as an official VHSL activity.
Fairfax County Public Schools is currently looking for coaches to participate in its esports program, which has been in the works for more than two years and will operate under its Activities and Athletics office. Some teachers have already shown interest in helping, according to Curran.
Students will have to pay a $64 fee each season through a startup company PlayVS, which provides computer games and requires students to maintain eligibility through grades and attendance. FCPS is looking at ways to prevent the fee from becoming a barrier to participation.
With schools expected to open for in-person learning five days a week this fall, FCPS plans to have students participate in existing computer labs, rather than remotely. Like a traditional sports team, Curran says Fairfax County’s esports teams will likely have jerseys.
“Our kids, you know, they’re already playing the games,” Curran said. “They’re ready to go, and they’re eager for us to start this.”
Photo via Axville/Unsplash
There were spells cast and monsters launched. There were fashion shows and combats. But, the real magic happened when the clock struck midnight on June 18 when teenagers around the world dropped the curtain on a three-day gaming spree to help Broadway actors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of about 70 teenagers from around the world gathered virtually for a 72-hour Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) marathon game this past weekend. The event raised $1,157 benefitting Broadway Cares, which supports actors.
“You could definitely tell that everyone had fun,” said Elizabeth Tippens, the organizer of Teens4Broadway, following the event. “People who have never met before were having a great time.”
Tippens, a rising junior at Langley High School and theater student, organized the game and Teens4Broadway along with seven other local teenagers. She said the idea came to her while playing D&D with her friends during the stay-at-home order. Her friends love theater and wanted to support the industry, so they decided to create a fundraiser to benefit actors.
“We’re informed about some Broadway things just from being in theater, and we also play D&D a lot,” says Lily Spiller, one of the dungeon masters.
“With COVID, there’s a lot of things going wrong for a lot of people in theater, because theater is a pretty in-person thing. We wanted to do something to help with that,” said Spiller.
D&D is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game that allows players to create their own characters. A dungeon master serves as the game’s storyteller while maintaining the setting of the fantastical world. A roll of the dice can often determine the life or death fate of players’ characters, according to the D&D website.
From there, Tippens connected with Broadway Cares, a nonprofit that provides assistance and aid to actors. She and her friends came up with a live virtual marathon game of D&D to raise money for the Broadway Cares Actors Fund.
Teenagers from Virginia to Scotland gathered to play. Anyone interested was invited to watch the game live with the option to donate money. Viewers who donated certain amounts of money could influence the game and the players. For example, with a $25 donation, a healing potion could be delivered to any of the players.
“There were quite a few $50 donations, which were the party heals,” said Tippens, adding that $50 allowed donors to heal the entire party and give spell casters all their spells back.
However, the real chaos came from the $100 donations, which gave the donor the power to choose any D&D monster of the party’s level to be dropped immediately.
“The main way it was influenced was because of the big monsters people were dropping on us,” said Tippens.
The game took place over Roll20, an online roleplaying site geared towards tabletop roleplaying games, such as D&D. Each player was required to make an account on the site to be eligible to participate. The game was then live-streamed via Twitch, a live streaming service often used by gamers. The group had specific technicians to ensure that donations were verified and that the technology ran smoothly throughout the three-day marathon.
Despite the fun, Tippens said there were many technical challenges. These included a lag on the website due to the high volume of people, a problem with audio where some people couldn’t be heard, and kids not showing up to some of the later slots. Additionally, Roll20 was down for about three hours on one of the days, and a session was canceled because of it.
This marathon game may only be the beginning of more games in the future held by Teens4Broadway.
Tippens said she has projects in mind for how the game can be improved if it were to happen again, such as using different software for the virtual play. She also mentioned a potential name change and possibly supporting other organizations besides Broadway Cares to reach a broader audience.
“We definitely have ideas in the works for future events.”
Photo courtesy Elizabeth Tippens
Shoppers at an upcoming business in Falls Church may feel nostalgic after checking out its offerings of video games and old toys.
“We are trying to build around the retro game community,” he said.
The location will source games from around the area and resell them at a fair market price, Jackson said, adding that people who bring in items for sale can receive store credit in exchange for their game or toy.
The roughly 1,400 square foot store will seel roughly 85% video games and 25% other toys such as vintage skateboards, according to Jackson.
Super Bit Video Games will promote new and featured items through its Instagram account.
The location is expected to celebrate a soft opening sometime in March, Jackson said.
Photo courtesy Chris Jackson
Glick took the first place in the video game division in a national championship tournament in June, winning part of a $250,000 pot in scholarships and prizes.
According to a press release from The Pokémon Company International, the tournament will be invite-only with attendees from over 35 countries vying for a series of prizes August 16-18 in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (801 Mount Vernon Place NW).
Glick says Pokémon is still a fun hobby rather than a job or sport, and he plays mostly to keep in touch with friends.
“I started playingPokémon competitively back in 2011 when there was a local tournament in the Washington D.C. area,” Glick said in an email. “I’ve kept competing all these years primarily because if I were to stop I would have a harder time seeing the friends I’ve made over the years through the game.”
There were a few tense moments for Glick at the most recent match. He noted that there were a few close calls, but he managed to pull through.
“I’m very excited for the World Championships and hope to do well,” Glick said.
Photo via The Pokémon Company
If you had a game on pre-order at the Vienna GameStop (203 Maple Ave E), you might be surprised to show up and find the store completely boxed up.
According to an employee sitting in the otherwise empty storefront, the chain closed last week and consolidated with the store in the Tysons Corner Center mall, where customers can go to pick up games they ordered.
The employee said rising rent prices in the shopping center — at the corner of Maple Ave and Park Street — forced them to close and relocate.
Two doors down, the Starbucks is also on the way out. An employee said that both of the existing Starbucks locations in Vienna are being closed in April, with staff consolidated to the new drive-through location one block away.
Between the two is Cold Stone Creamery, but a manager at the store said the location is on a 10-year lease for the location. The manager did not know how far into the lease the chain was but said there were no immediate plans for it to leave.
Players of Fortnite, popular battle-royale style multiplayer game, will have the opportunity to turn their hobby into profit. The Microsoft Store at Tysons Corner Center will be one of the stores hosting the North American Championship Tournament for Fortnite.
On Friday, Oct. 26, the Tysons Microsoft Store will be one of 20 stores in the Southeast region of the tournament. Teams from the Microsoft Store will be dropped into public matches, building points through placements (survival as a team) and eliminations of other players. The tournament will run from 5-9 p.m.
The top team from each store will move into a private match against teams from the other regional winners. The top three teams will take home a portion of the $7,000 prize pool. The top six teams move onto the national championship, where the top three teams will split a $15,000 pool. The national championship will take place on Nov. 10.
Mixer, a live-streaming platform owned by Microsoft, will host live broadcasts of the competitions and player interviews after the tournaments.
Entry to the tournament is free and open to everyone 14 and up. Registration is available online.
Participants between 14 and 17 must have a parent or guardian sign a parental consent form at the store. Hardware, including laptops, mice, mouse pads, and headsets will be provided. Xbox One controllers are available on request, or players can bring their own.
A full list of rules is available online.
Image via Twitter