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East Carter High School's Jordan Burton is the first person signed to Alice Lloyd's fledgling esports program.

There have been “professional” level competitions in video games since the arcade era. But when most of us were young, the idea of playing video games competitively at a collegiate level wasn't something we ever imagined – despite what films like “The Wizard” promised for the future. Thirty years after that movie's debut, however, esports have hit the mainstream.

Alice Lloyd College recently drafted their first esports competitor, Jordan Burton, from East Carter High School, but they actually began putting their esports program together last year, explained John Driskill, Student Activity Director for the school.

“This is technically our second year with the program,” Driskill said. “It's our first year hosting competitive teams though. We started the program last year, kind of more as a club, just getting interest. Then, this year we've actually become affiliated with two esports leagues in the nation, the Collegiate Starleague (CSL) and the American Video Game League or AVGL.”

The university currently has teams playing Apex Legends, Rocket League, League of Legends, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

“We're hoping to add a few more teams to that roster, like Fortnite and a few more of those kinds of games,” Driskill said.

Apex Legends is a battle royale game, where the last person standing is declared the winner. Other games in the genre include the popular Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battleground (PUBG). Rocket League combines vehicles and soccer for a unique twist on the sports game genre. League of Legends represents the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre, where players work together as a team to capture resources and territory from an opposing team. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the game Burton was recruited to play, is a traditional head-to-head fighting game.

Burton is one of approximately 20 students currently involved in or set to be involved in the esports program at the school. Most of those are students already enrolled at Alice Lloyd.

“Jordan Burton was actually our first official esports recruit,” Driskill explained. The other participants are either students who had showed an interest in esports or those involved in the esports work-study program.

“Where we're a work-study college, they're actually in the esports lab,” Driskill continued. “So they get some on the job experience, too, with the infrastructure of running an esports lab.”

With the growth of esports, not only among competitors but also as a spectator event and one that requires much of the same background support as traditional sports, it was inevitable that the school become involved, Driskill explained.

“I believe it was last year, more people watched the League of Legends world championship than watched the Super Bowl,” he said. “So we noticed there was a big push for it, and we looked around and not very many schools around our area really had hosted that, at least as far as colleges go. There are a few others that had programs and stuff, but not many of them had a full-on dedicated lab. So we thought that would be something kind of unique that we could offer, because one thing we really push for is to really give these kids the most that we can give them in their education.”

“It opened a whole wider spectrum to us that, some kids that never would have considered competing in college, because they didn't play athletic sports, it gave them an outlet and a community that can make it feel more like home to them,” he continued.

Alice Lloyd also plans to start individual Twitch channels for each game in the program, Driskill added, so that fans of the games can follow the school's teams.

But it's most important to the school for the opportunities it offers their students.

“I think this opportunity is awesome for these Appalachian kids,” Driskill said. “I know growing up, in Breathitt County, we didn't even have high speed internet until I was a sophomore in high school. So I would play a lot of games with my brother, (but) seeing that opportunity to not only go to college somewhere – because some kids around here don't even have that opportunity – but the opportunity not just to go to college, but also to go to college and compete in something you really like, and isn't necessarily well known in your area, I just think that's such a big opportunity for kids, that they can make a name for themselves.”

For more information on the esports program you can email Driskill at johndriskill@ALC.edu.

Contact the writer at jwells@journaltimes.com.

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