Esports is Building Bridges in Fluvanna County
How one coach is using his childhood passion to bring together the students in his community
Though he’s not a teacher, Ryan White has been making a big difference for students in his community for years. Having volunteered in various afterschool programs, White was a familiar face for kids of all ages across Fluvanna County, Virginia. So when his superintendent offered him an opportunity to lead the esports program at Fluvanna County High School, White jumped at the opportunity.
“When I was coming up, playing video games in high school was a dream. Now, students have this outlet to compete and showcase their skills.” White is no novice to esports – he’s been playing competitively since he was his students’ age.
“I got into esports in 2008 with [Call of Duty] Modern Warfare,” White recalls. “Everything from ‘08 until now has been preparing me for this, from MLG gaming to the youth programs. It got me used to organizing teams, setting up dates, and practicing for matches. The only difference now is instead of me playing, I’m getting my players in the right headspace.”
“Esports is one of the coolest things that can go on at a school.”
- Ryan White, Coach
For White, the key to getting his players in the zone is mindset.
“I pump them up, use affirmations, get them in the headspace that they can win. I make sure they’re going into the match confident,” says White. “When we’re streaming, we’ll have one player playing Smash and two others there to offer support during the match and provide critical feedback afterwards. My main thing is making sure they’re confident and eliminating self-doubt.”
In addition to instilling a sense of competition in his players, White also sees his program bringing together students at FCHS.
“My players are coming out of their shells, becoming more vocal. Multiple teachers have come to me saying, ‘I don’t know what's going on, but so and so is more alive in class.’”
“I enjoy competing with my peers for a common goal,” adds sophomore Jaden Steger. “Esports has brought friendships into my life. My teammates and I weren’t close before this season. Now we are.”
“I love esports because it allows a break in the wall of traditional sports and allows for a new outlook.”
- Jaden Steger, Player
Steger, who goes by the in-game name “Otter-” when he’s leading the FCHS Rocket League team, is part of a growing community of gamers that has blossomed ever since White took over the program.
“We had five players when I came on. Now we have sixteen.” White attributes the growth of his program to the space it offers students across grade levels and backgrounds to share in a common interest.
“We have freshmen, sophomores, and seniors all engaging with each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re an underclassman or an upperclassmen, we’re all working to the same goal. Younger students help older ones with game tips; older ones help younger ones with life tips.”
Beyond teaching his students valuable skills, White wants to educate adults on the benefits his esports program offers students.
“I want students and teachers to understand that esports and gaming isn’t what it used to be, or what their parents thought. There is so much to learn from games and competition in general. You gain skills in problem-solving, in effectively communicating with your teammates. There’s so much added value, and it’s a positive experience. Esports is one of the coolest things that can go on at a school.”
“I want students and teachers to understand that esports and gaming isn’t what it used to be, or what their parents thought. There is so much to learn from games and competition in general.”
- Ryan White, Coach
White has high hopes about the direction both his program and scholastic esports is going in.
“I only hope as the program continues to grow, people can see that their interests aren’t just fun, but that there's opportunities, too. Go to school and pursue a dream you have, a job in a field that you adore. There is so much added value that esports is going to keep bringing, and I hope we continue to push it forward.”
With coaches as passionate and dedicated to their students as White, that kind of change is inevitable.