Will Esports Replace Football In High Schools?
I know, I know. Even as I wrote the headline, I couldn’t help but think what many out there are probably already thinking: “But foobaw!” Football has been a major part of the high school experience for the better part of a century. Whether you’re on the team, the JV, cheerleading, playing in the band, attending a game, or writing ‘Go Team’ in a yearbook, you’ve probably been involved with the football team at some point in your high school career. However, I want to turn the clock ahead 20 years and examine where things are going.
To do that, we first need to look at where we are now. As I said, football has been a mainstay for decades. However, it has changed a lot since even I was in high school… ya know, two years ago. (editor’s note: That’s a lie. It’s been more like 12.) As more and more research about concussions and long term damage from football injuries comes to light, engagement is beginning to drop off.
Look no further than the NFL where long time fans will tell you that the game isn’t what it used to be. And they’re right. If you were tuning in for the bone-crunching, bell ringing, soul crushing hits of the 80’s and 90’s then yes, the game is not what it once was. It’s the unfortunate side effect of trying to keep these players alive longer than their 50th birthday. People call it the ‘Wussification’ of football, but the medical science cannot be ignored. Football, as it is, is killing people.
So how does that apply to esports? More and more parents who are having kids now are seeing the effects of football on people. That is, plain and simply, spurring an interest in safer sports. Even in 2003 when I entered high school, my dad insisted that I not play football. He played in the 60’s, all through his high school career, and it destroyed his knees. Ignore the fact that I had no interest in playing football and was already an avid gamer. Even if I had an interest, my parents wouldn’t have allowed it. That feeling among parents is only growing with each passing year.
Which brings us to now. High schools have been slow to dip their toes into esports, but just like colleges before them, that number is getting ready to balloon. PlayVS, a program that helps high schools set up esports teams, has a wait list of 13,000 schools. Think about that number. It’s estimated that around 14,600 schools have a varsity football program. Within the next 5 to 10 years, there will be as many active high school esports programs as there is football.
Which raises one important question. Will the prominence and availability of esports programs spur more people to play or less? I think the past 20 years have shown us that esports isn’t a fad, so I’m betting on the former. With esports programs in high schools already seeing record engagement, I think this is only going to grow. In fact, let me pose a simple question to parents out there. If your kid could earn a scholarship playing football, given all we know about it now, or that same scholarship playing esports, which would you pick?
I know there will be the die hards out there who say “esports isn’t real sports! I want my kid to play football!” There’s also those out there who say “my kid really likes football, I want to encourage their passion.” But more and more, that is going to become the minority. As a huge football fan myself, it’s crazy to think about. However, I truly believe that in 15-20 years, esports will have supplanted football.
Do you agree with me? Am I completely off base? Hit us up on Twitter @CheckpointXP to let me know!