By Michael Kelly of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel   Originally published February 6, 2019
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MARIETTA — After two eye-opening presentations to the Marietta City Schools board of education, sophomore Isaac Warner got what he asked for.

With a budget of just over $2,000, Warner has now established an esports club at Marietta High School. It’s not quite on par with varsity basketball or football, but it’s a start. The club, he said Wednesday, now has about 50 members. Already, it’s the biggest non-athletic organization on the campus.

“I’ve always had an interest in gaming, seen the economic potential of it, the growth possibilities,”Warner said. “I started playing around with it when I got my first phone, but I’m not a huge gamer. I just saw the potential of this club, making it sort of a second home for the people who enjoy being able to compete and get better at it.”

The club doesn’t have a facility yet, but Warner hopes to get some support from the business community to get that idea moving. Right now, the club sets up sometimes in the gym or cafeteria, or because of the nature of the sport, they just have virtual scrimmages online.

The high school group also is forging connections with Marietta College, which over the past year has made serious investments in esports.

On Wednesday afternoon, a group assembled in the arena — a room in the Gathering Place on campus lit with dim blue light, a line of half a dozen Dell Alienware computers on adjustable desks, with sleek ergonomic chairs, lined up along two walls. Matthew Williamson, assistant professor of computer science and the college’s esports coach, answered questions from Warner, who was somewhat wide-eyed, about the computer configurations.

Williamson said the college has invested tens of thousands of dollars in the computers alone, along with reconfiguring the room. It’s a development only months old.

“We usually scrimmage for about two hours, that’s enough time to play two or three games of League of Legends,” he said. The Marietta team practices with other college groups, both honing their skills for formal competition.

Professional gamers, he said, sometimes play up to 20 hours continuously.

Rick Smith, in the sports management faculty and director of esports, said gaming is not yet recognized by the NCAA but the college applies the same standards — minimum GPA, hours of practice, the requirement to compete — as other sports for students who want to join, who at this point number about 20. They play competitively against other colleges under the National Association of College Esports rules.

The idea to add esports to the Marietta College menu came from both students and the college president, William Ruud. Smith said. “It was sort of a top-down, bottom-up thing that met in the middle,” he said.

It’s a demanding activity, he said.

“This is not playing video games in your basement,” he said. “It’s like the difference between a pick-up games of hoops and professional basketball.”

Smith said it’s also an added attraction when trying to recruit students.

“It’s another way for students to participate in campus life,” he said. “It helps the team environment, and with that you do better at life in general.”

The high school connection is a work in progress, he said, and a welcome addition.

“When Isaac approached us, we said sure,” Smith said. “From there, the conversation evolved, and we’re working out the final details on how often they use our facility to practice. Hopefully, one day they’ll decided to attend Marietta College.”


Keeping Score

* Marietta High School club membership: About 50

* Marietta College team: About 20

* Number of esports teams in college leagues: About 300