Traditional sports take a backseat at Edmonton eSports tournament

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WATCH ABOVE: It's an industry that's seen explosive growth the last few years. eSports pits teams of players against one another in video game competitions. As Julia Wong reports, an Edmonton tournament shows it teaches as many skills as traditional sports – Jan 12, 2019

A group of Edmonton students spent part of the weekend glued to computer screens, as they marked the first-ever eSports tournament organized in their school district – a sign the popularity of eSports is growing in Edmonton and around the world.

The eSports League of Legends Invitational wrapped up its tournament Saturday at McNally School; the event was largely driven by students and included roughly 50 students from seven different Edmonton public schools.

Corbett Artym, a high school teacher at McNally, supervised the event, which saw audiences watch in-person at the school as well as online.

Artym said eSports are inclusive; the video game tournament involved two teams of five students each competing against one another.

“I think that eSports are invaluable because it’s for a demographic that may not participate in traditional sports,” he said.

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“They can work on teamwork or communication. It’s also about having efficient communication. We have five students each on a mic on a team. They’re giving each other information. They’re saying, ‘Hey I need this over here,’ so just like in a hockey game, a basketball game, they’re communicating very, very regularly.”

READ MORE: Video gaming as an Olympic sport? IOC hosting eSports forum to better understand competitive gaming

eSports has been growing in recent years; the IOC is even considering adding eSports as an Olympic sport. Last year, the IOC recognized eSports as a sports activity.

In Sept. 2018, an eSports league called Overwatch League announced it was adding a team from Toronto and one from Vancouver to its roster.

READ MORE: Overwatch League expanding to Canada with teams in Toronto, Vancouver

Artym said eSports can offer career opportunities for talented players.

An eSports tournament in Vancouver last year saw a prize pool of $25 million, with the winning team taking home $11 million. eSports tournaments have awarded nearly US$500 million in cash prizes since 1998, according to the prize-tracking website E-Sports Earnings.

The whole industry generated $655 million in revenue last year and is expected to be worth $3 billion by 2022, according to a Goldman Sachs report on eSports published in June.

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READ MORE: The 0.1 per cent: How eSports pros make a career playing video games

Geoffery Banh, 17, is considering a career in the video game industry; the grade 12 student helped found the McNally eSports League, which helped organized the tournament.

“Before we were just a bunch of video game enthusiasts and we really liked playing with each other at home,” he said.

“We realized we could take our hobby and make it something that we can get others into.”

Banh, who doesn’t play any other sports, said the biggest takeaway from eSports is teamwork.

“These players, they work together the same way as soccer players or hockey players do. They talk to each other. They make players with each other and they train together,” he said.

Keman Le, 17, represented the McNally team at the tournament on Saturday. The grade 12 student has been playing video games his whole life.

“It’s something I’ve been passionate about,” he said.

“Since eSports is team driven, you’re able to develop teamwork skills and cooperation with your teammates. You’ll also be able to develop stronger friendships and bonds.”

In recent years, there have been concerns of young people spending too much time in front of computers, TVs or their smartphones; Artym agrees and said too much of anything, like eSports, can be a bad thing.

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“If you’re treating it with moderation, I think that’s great. Me, personally, and many of my friends, this is how we like to talk and communicate. For some introverts and some people, in person, might not want to talk. To work on team building, this is invaluable,” he said.

The livestream of the tournament can be watched at this link. More information about the league can be found here.

-with files from Josh K. Elliott and Christopher Whan