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Friday Night Bytes: eSports joins Florence 1 Schools athletics roster

A new sport is launching in Florence 1 Schools and it may not be quite what you’d expect. Competitive video gaming, called eSports, has grown in popularity across the nation and now has a home in F1S, complete with a state-of-the-art eSports facility, housed in the Poynor Education building.

Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley said that eSports is a great opportunity for students to represent their schools, on the local and even the national level, outside of traditional sports or academic competitions.

“The popularity of sports and performing arts in our nation’s schools has been a constant as long as we can remember and the COVID-19 pandemic has made even more people aware of the importance of these programs for our students,” O’Malley said. “eSports is growing in popularity all over the country and we are seeing a significant growth in the number of student eSports groups who want to represent their respective high schools, the same way traditional sports teams do. Kids who are really solid at eSports are even getting college scholarships now. For some of our students, this may be their path to college.”

Wyatt Howle, a network administrator for the F1S Technology Department, helped spearhead the campaign to start a district eSports team after coaching with the Florence Parks and Recreation eSports team.

“About two years ago the county parks and rec department started their own eSports team,” Howle said. “Watching them, and being a part of that, helped me see how supportive the community was and how great it was for the kids. With COVID and regular sports being sort of a question mark this really filled a niche and came along at the right time.”

Howle said that he views eSports as a way for students not inclined to take part in regular sports to participate in something that they can get excited about that also pushes them to do their best academically.

“At pretty much any high school you will probably find a kid who is pretty smart but they just don’t care because they don’t have anything to tie them there,” Howle said. “You give them a community, somewhere they have a group of peers where they can succeed, and you tie maintaining a GPA to being able to continue doing that, I think you will really start seeing those kids be good students. eSports is something that transcends different social groups; you will have the football players who play it and love it but you also have the nerds and even girls come out to play. It really is a little bit of something for everyone and it gives kids the chance to succeed.”  

Whereas gaming used to be seen as just a ‘waste of time’, Howle said, people are really beginning to see the value of the community it creates and the hard work that eSports athletes put in to perfect their skills. He said that he is not aware of another school district locally participating in eSports but he hopes to see that change.

“I would love for there to be a state body for this like you have for regular football so that they can schedule leagues,” Howle said. “I would love for every high school to have this so that they can hold eSports championships within the state.”

The facility built for Florence 1’s eSports student-athletes features twelve competitive stations as well as seating for around 40 spectators. TV monitors allow spectators to watch each individual participant’s view and the broadcast team in the studio handling the streaming does live commentary.

“eSports is really big in the parks and rec scene here in Florence, thanks to Nathan Dawsey and everything he’s doing,” Howle said. “There are colleges that are picking it up as a varsity sport like Coker, Winthrop and USC Sumter where students are being recruited to attend on an eSports scholarship. We are excited to really develop our program and see our athletes take advantage of those opportunities at the collegiate level.”