If you think video games don’t belong in Iowa schools, Osage Community School District educator Chris Kyhl will change your mind. He’s passionate about eSports, a competitive video gaming league for students. Schools like Osage and more than 90 others across the state have embraced eSports to appeal to students for skill development, computer science exploration and a sense of school pride and belonging.

Kyhl, an advanced math and computer science teacher, helped bring eSports to the home of the Green Devils five years ago as a club, and it became an official school extracurricular activity two years ago. With its implementation, Kyhl has seen immediate benefits for his students.

“For many kids who haven’t found their niche yet through traditional sports or music, eSports is a great avenue for them to be a part of something with the school,” he said. “I’ve seen a couple of students who were failing, got involved in eSports and found people who they could relate to through video games. They went on to graduate on time.”

Students at Osage can join the eSports team to compete against other schools in the video games of Overwatch 2 and Rocket League. Like other schools, they typically have three competitive seasons throughout the school year consisting of two to three matches each season. Osage’s teams include a five-person junior varsity and varsity squad, in which students must show not only technical game skills but also strong collaboration skills to make the team.

“I focus on teamwork and communication,” Kyhl said. “The games are team-based, so the best player won’t necessarily make the team if they can’t work with others. There is a lot of communication involved in a successful five-person team.”

The eSports teams at Osage Community School District help develop teamwork and communication skills as well as interests in computer science. 

Osage’s team has found success, too. Last year, they competed in the finals of the state tournament, and team members are looking forward to contending again for the top prize at the in-person tournament.

“It’s cool to see a lot of teams in one room competing for the same thing,” said Osage senior Gabe Muller, 17. “We’ve had a good team this year, so we know that we can work together and do well.”

The eSports state tournament will be held in West Des Moines on March 3-4 and will feature two divisions for Overwatch 2 and Rocket League championships. The Osage team knows there will be a lot of preparation prior to the tournament that students will need to fit into their schedules.

“There is a two-week period between wrestling and basketball where we will need to practice every day,” Kyhl said.

Practice and involvement in eSports teams can help build important 21st century skills like communication, collaboration and problem solving while also strengthening technology skills and acumen, which is needed in today’s world.

“Technology is our future,” Gabe said. “It is a part of our daily lives and is rapidly a part of more jobs out there.”

Through eSports, students can see first-hand different aspects of computer science, which may spur further exploration of the field.

“Some students start out hating computer science,” Kyhl said. “But they start playing eSports and become curious on how something is built within the game or what is going on in the background. Many of them go on to take a computer science class.”

eSports has strengthened Gabe’s personal interest in computer science. He is planning to attend the University of Iowa in the fall and major in computer science.

“I’ve always been fascinated in computer science since my freshman year,” he said. “eSports has definitely made me more interested in the programming behind how things are built in the game.”

A member of the Iowa High School eSports Association executive team, Kyhl has been on the forefront of eSports in Iowa since the beginning and has enjoyed watching it grow. He is excited for the expansion of the sport into middle schools and believes schools can benefit by offering eSports to their students.

“Come and watch us compete,” he said. “Your mind will be changed. It’s more than just playing a video game. You’ll see us working and growing together.”

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