Forming the foundation for esports in NJ

Just like any sport tryouts, coaches are taking notes to see how players work together and individually. Parents are watching from the sidelines and students are competing on the field — only this is a virtual field.

Students at North Bergen High School tried out for a new esports team by playing Overwatch.

Esports is competitive video gaming, and each game is considered a different sport.

“We have about 30 students for tryouts and when we focus on our next game which is the League of Legends, we have about 20 students,” said Jared Keshishian, district supervisor of science at North Bergen High School.

Over 450 million people around the world are expected to watch esports in 2019, according to global esports analytics company Newzoo.

For the first time, Newzoo expects global esports revenues to exceed $1 billion.

“With esports you have people playing in their basement now, and then you have these pros on these main stages making millions and there’s really no clear path, so we were kind of inspired by watching my brother being recruited to college,” said Helix Sports co-owner Jack Vandervelde.

In December, Vandervelde opened a new esports facility in North Bergen with his dad and brother.

“He played Division I lacrosse, and it was basically you do well in high school, you make a summer team, you play at your summer tournaments, and you get scouted by a coach there, you get picked up, you get your offer to college,” he said.

Rutgers, Bloomfield College, Union County College, Sussex County Community College and Stockton University are among schools with esports programs.

Later this month, Atlantic City will host the 2019 North American Collegiate Grand Finals, where hundreds of the best college esports teams will compete for more than $100,000 in scholarships.

“From the professional level, it’s actually trickled down into the colleges, and of course sooner or later, it’s going to trickle down to the high school, so we just want to be out in front,” Keshishian said.

The Vandervelde brothers are working to start a high school tri-state or Jersey league in the fall.  They hope to have around six to eight teams in that league.

North Bergen High School is the first one signed up.

Junior Thomas Insetta says he now has a chance to get recruited to play in college, and it gives him a chance to be part of a team.

“It’s probably the best thing that could ever happen. It gives gamers another chance just to be out in the world and meet new people,” Insetta said.

That’s why Knollwood Middle School in Fair Haven formed an esports team.  It’s the first middle school in the country to have one, and there are currently 16 players on the team.

“All the players on my team had no home/school connection before the esports team. Meaning that they weren’t involved in sports, they weren’t involved in clubs and after school they just went home. And we know that the research shows that when a student has home/school connection, it leads to better learning outcomes,” said Chris Aviles, a coach at Knollwood.

Of the 30 or so students from North Bergen High School trying out, 12 will make the team next week. More students will be trying out for the League of Legends team on Monday.