Esports flourishing at Bell County High School

Published 3:53 pm Monday, March 4, 2024

While the high school basketball season is wrapping up in Kentucky with regional tournaments taking place this week, another KHSAA sanctioned sport is just starting its season. Esports kicked off their spring season last week and Bell County High School is one of 124 schools across the state that are competing for state championships in a variety of video games.

Bell County started their esports team last fall and the number of gamers has grown to over 30 this spring. This is the fifth year KHSAA has recognized the sport.

“We started it this year trying to reach those kids that may not play basketball, football or baseball,” BCHS Principal Jeff Brock said. “It has been a really good, positive thing to get kids involved in something. Anytime a kid in high school can get involved in something they meet new people and make more relationships.”

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Zach Estep, who handles IT for the high school, played a big role in getting BCHS started with esports. He wrote a letter to Superintendent Tom Gambrel asking for funds to start the program and that request was approved last year.

Estep also serves as the assistant coach for the team

“We actually have several teams. There are nine different games that we do and we now have over 30 kids participating,” he said. “A lot of them were never previously playing a sport or involved in other activities so this gets them out and doing things that they otherwise wouldn’t be doing.”

The BCHS team competes against other high school teams in video games such as Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Hearthstone, Splatoon, League of Legends, NBA 2K, Madden NFL, and Rocket League.

Brock said the Bell County Board of Education and the high school spent about $30,000 to create a classroom for the team.

“It’s got all of the gaming technology so kids can participate in the sport without leaving school. They can play against teams in northern Kentucky or western Kentucky that we couldn’t travel to on a school night,” he said.

Coach Jeremy Owens and Estep handled putting the room together with several gaming consoles, computers and big screen monitors.

“We couldn’t have done it without Zach. He built all of the computers on line and all we had to do was install the video cards and wi-fi. Last summer we came in and painted, cleared out this room and made it into what you see today,” Owens said.

Estep said there plans to get some wall decals to decorate the room with either the Bobcat logo or characters from the games.

Owens said the program has already shown it can benefit the kids.

“Last year we had a kid that struggled to be here on time for class and he turned out to be one of our best NBA players. He actually made it to the second round of the state playoffs,” he said. “A lot of these kids will group up into the teams that they play with and instead of them running the halls individually, they’ll stick together with their teammates. There’s definitely a positive aspect to it.”

“It helps them talk to people and make friends outside of their normal cliques,” Estep added. “I wish they would have had this when I was in school. I would have been all over it.”

Another positive aspect is that many colleges have also added esports programs and there are now a lot of scholarships available for players.

“When we researched it a year or two ago there were $7 million in scholarships that went out to esports players and by now that number is probably over $10 million every year,” Owens said. “It’s another opportunity for some of these kids to go to college that we didn’t have before. We’re more than happy to offer it.”

Brock thanked Gambrel and the school board for their support as well as the KHSAA for sanctioning esports.

“We made a good investment and the fact that the KHSAA was willing to create something like this for the kids is impressive. It’s always been strictly athletics and now they’ve opened up a whole new avenue for kids,” he said.