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OSSAA approves esports gaming as new championship activity
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OSSAA approves esports gaming as new championship activity

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Oklahoma entered the interscholastic esports gaming era Wednesday, but not every current administrator of the activity is enamored with a contract before the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.

The OSSAA’s board of directors voted 14-0 to make esports a championship activity. The fall semester will be used as an exhibition season, and the first officially sanctioned state titles would be decided in the spring of 2022, OSSAA staff member Amy Cassell said.

“I think it’s great for kids. I think esports has a way of dynamically engaging the kids in a way that other activities are not engaging them,” said Todd Borland, executive director of information technology for the Union Public Schools and commissioner of the Oklahoma Esports League, which has about 40 member schools and has been staging championships for about three years.

“The more exposure to esports, I think, is great for students. So the concept, I think, is great. But I’m not a big fan of charging schools and charging students to play,” Borland said. “That’s not the way we’ve been doing it.”

Under a three-year contract that the OSSAA plans to sign with PlayVS, an online gaming platform partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations, cost of competition would be $64 per student for each academic year.

However, Cassell said, each school district likely would bear the cost in the same way it pays participation fees for its teams in football, girls and boys basketball and other OSSAA-sanctioned activities.

Cassell said she learned about the popularity of esports in other states about three years ago and received permission from OSSAA executive director David Jackson to start developing the concept for Oklahoma.

Board members were told Wednesday that 15 Oklahoma colleges offer esports scholarships.

Member schools will be invited to participate in a Sept. 20 online rules meeting. Competition would begin on Sept. 28.

As envisioned by Cassell, regular-season competition would determine playoff seedings. The postseason would resemble the football and basketball playoffs with a knockout tournament leading to two championship finalists for each egame chosen for competition.

The tentative list of egames includes “FIFA 21”, “League of Legends”, “Madden NFL 21”, “Rocket League”, “SMITE”, “Splatoon 2” and “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate”.

Sapulpa athletic director Michael Rose said he favored “any activity that can get kids involved outside of the school day. It’s like football or basketball or any other activity. You find your niche and then you get interact and be involved with like-minded individuals.”

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