Finding Community & Scholarship Opportunities
One Oklahoma School is Embracing Esports and Creating Unlikely Paths to College for its Players.
“I’ve never been called an athlete before”
That is what one of the players at Nowata High School in Nowata, OK said last Fall when Head Coach Richard Rohde congratulated the five starting members of their League of Legends team on becoming the inaugural members of the Nowata Esports team. To Coach Rohde though, this reaction wasn’t a surprise. Last Fall after the OSSAA partnered with PlayVS, Coach Rohde was approached by his principal and superintendent about using the opportunity specifically to get students to participate who were not involved in other sports or activities on campus.
Allen Forehand became one of those core inaugural students to join the school's newly formed esports program who would soon also take on a leadership role to build out the program. Having played video games his whole life, starting with console gaming on Playstation and then moving to PC, the esports team seemed like the perfect fit for him. When he learned that the titles being offered were not anything he had experienced playing before, Allen used it as an opportunity to try something new. From there he dove head-first into League of Legends. He liked how different it was from games he had played before and the team dynamic it had – a stark contrast to the solo games he was playing in the past.
After their first season and the loss of some members, Allen knew he would have to step up to keep the program going. Using the spring as a rebuilding season, Allen came up with the idea of using his English class 20% Project as an opportunity to present the esports program to his underclassmen, specifically 8th graders, and use it as a recruitment tool. The idea worked and the program more than doubled in membership for this current Fall Season.
Part of his successful recruitment strategy included talking about the scholarship opportunities colleges were now offering and how being involved in esports could bring about those opportunities. Little did he know at the time of telling others what they could earn did he know that he would soon receive his own offer.
“It was really shocking. I can’t describe it. It feels like an all-day party”
When looking at colleges to attend next year, Allen had kept Oklahoma State University in his sights. Looking to pursue a degree in Computer Science, Allen hopes to one day work on developing video games or building computers and he knew that OSU had a fantastic program that would be a good fit for this career path. Esports at the time was not even on his mind. While on his college tour of OSU’s campus they stopped at their recently built esports arena. The Oklahoma State University Esports Arena had been in the making for some time and officially opened at the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester as a place to grow their esports team and be a place for alumni and community members.
While in the area, Allen mentioned his involvement and leadership role with his Nowata Esports team. Upon hearing this news the lights lit up in the OSU staff’s eyes as they quickly went to get an administrator who then on the spot offered Allen a scholarship to be a part of their esports program. Having just formed their esports program, OSU was eager to recruit players with esports playing experience. This scholarship would give Allen the opportunity to compete not just in League of Legends, but also in other esports they offered like Rocket League and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Allen was shocked. While video games have been his passion, he never considered himself someone that could compete at the collegiate level This was the first time the idea of playing after high school could actually become a reality for him. “The fact that he was offered a scholarship straight out just for playing esports with our school and PlayVS was really just kind of amazing” noted Coach Rohde.
“This is my family, this is where I want to be”
As Allen enters his senior year as co-captain of both the League of Legends and Rocket League teams, he feels both excited about what lies ahead for him next year in college and also anxious about leaving the high school team he now sees as family. Having known Allen since first teaching him in 8th grade, Coach Rohde has been amazed at his growth not just as a well-rounded student but as a leader in the program as well.
Coach Rohde plans to use their Fall season as a building season, an opportunity to acquaint the new members that Allen helped to recruit. Coach Rohde doesn’t expect to win many matches but he expects a lot of experience to be gained all around. The biggest thing that he hopes to instill is a sense of community and responsibility having seen his inaugural members grow as students and become more engaged knowing that they needed to remain eligible for the program and that others were now relying on them to show.
As for Allen, while he hasn’t officially made his decision yet on where he plans to attend next year, his story is a testament of putting yourself out there, looking for opportunities, and never assuming your skills or abilities are not good enough to make it.