Esports Reinvent Communities and Mindsets at Quartz Hill
One California school’s booming esports program demonstrates how the benefits of competitive gaming can be felt long after the match ends.
When the administration at Quartz Hill High School in California approached Tim Fields about starting an esports program, the lifelong gamer didn’t need to think long about it. Fields had already spent the past five years advising the school’s gaming club of several dozen students, and building it into a team felt like a logical evolution.
“Building the esports program at Quartz Hill has been both demanding and rewarding,” says Fields. “From the moment I took on the position over a year ago, I have spent as many hours as I do in the classroom outside of it managing the laundry list of responsibilities.”
The work paid off.
“The experience in our first three seasons has been incredible! We have uncovered kids at our school in the top percentage of players in their particular games who likely would have remained overlooked, and they have fought their way to the top of the ranks competing across multiple titles.”
Since the program started last year, Fields has witnessed incredible growth in participation and excitement about esports at Quartz Hill. Esports have become a burgeoning scene among students and faculty alike.
“More colleagues follow our progress and continue to get involved as coaches and mentors. Well over a hundred students have come together in a community that wouldn’t have the same foundation or positive support if it weren’t for esports. Our third season has seen immense growth in participation, yielding over 100 students trying out.”
"The wave of enthusiasm has proven infectious. Two additional coaches have joined the Quartz Hill esports program, and support from administration officials has boomed since its inception. The benefits have even spread beyond Fields’ school."
“Our district has quickly bought in, and most other high schools in our valley have put together esports teams in the past year.”
“Coaching esports has opened up my eyes to all of the interest and potential this growing industry has, not through changing the current world, but to evolve with the upcoming generations.”
- Tim Fields, Coach
Sean Ensley, who goes by “Olympia” when he’s playing on his Super Smash Bros.™ Ultimate team, is a testament to the power esports has in bringing people together. For a student who has taken his classes virtually ever since moving during the pandemic, esports offered an easy introduction back to school in an unfamiliar environment.
“Most of my best friends at Quartz Hill I first met through the esports team,” Ensley explains. “Now, we are best friends and all hang out together at lunch!”
Though Ensley enjoyed and excelled at basketball and model UN in the past, esports has proven to be his favorite extracurricular by a wide margin.
“Esports legitimizes my passion for Smash as something more than just a hobby. Through programs like PlayVS, my love for the game has become more than what it was,” Ensley says.
It’s not all fun and games for him – esports provides valuable educational value as well.
“Supporting the competitive side of Smash like this turns it from a video game into a sport. A sport that takes critical thinking, mental fortitude, and a large time investment to become one of the best.”
“Competing in Smash allows me to prove to myself that if I set my mind to something great, and if I am truly driven and passionate, I can succeed.”
- Sean Ensley, Player
Ensley’s coach agrees with that sentiment.
“Esports can provide the means for kids that aren’t in traditional sports to build character through teamwork, practice healthy time management, work on communication, and develop sportsmanship.”
Though Fields is enthralled by the effects of his program on the student body, he wasn’t always so sure about the far-reaching benefits of esports on youth.
“I was very skeptical over the past decade about esports and any potential for popularity in the United States. I thought, why call a video game an ‘esport’ and invite the criticism of athletic comparison? How will a culture that sees video games as a negative influence embrace playing them as a professional career?”
Most people who have grown up playing video games have heard plenty of sentiments like this, but more and more, the tide seems to be changing. The results from programs like the ones at Quartz Hill are helping with that change.
“Despite how tough these questions might be for me to answer, more kids are playing than ever, and they are certainly putting in the time and effort toward mastering their craft, the same way an athlete, a musician, or artist develops their talents. It gives the opportunity for sanctioned competition to smaller and nontraditional high schools that can’t fund full sports programs, and allows them to be recognized for the work they put in.”
“Our participation rates seem to double each season, and more amazingly talented players keep coming out of the shadows to add more strength to our squads.”
- Tim Fields, Coach
Speaking for younger generations, Ensley echoes this belief. For him, building a sense of competition has been a powerful growth experience.
“Participating in Smash has helped me become a more social and mature person. So many people in Smash tournaments are older than me and live very different lives. Learning to engage with them was tricky, but I have met some of my best friends through these tournaments and I am a significantly happier person than I was a few years ago.”
With accounts like that, it’s no wonder that esports continues to grow and thrive at schools like Quartz Hill.