While traditional sports are a staple of youth activities, many young people now prefer their activity to be in virtual form, playing or competing on their favorite video game platform. In fact, esports are now so popular that they’ve become spectator events of their own, with hundreds of higher education institutions now offering scholarship money for players.
The La Crosse Area Family YMCA responded earlier this year by developing an esports program for middle and high school students. But the Y’s esports program has a twist: It engages youth interested in gaming and competition while teaching them valuable life skills and core values. It also gives them short-term goals in the games they play today and supports long-term goals for competing at the collegiate level.
Colin Downs is the esports program coordinator at YMCA La Crosse.
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How are esports different from other online games?
Esports, or competitive gaming, is different from casual or social gaming in that esports refers to playing competitively, which typically involves different rule sets and variations of your favorite games. This usually involves a team that isn’t much different from traditional sports such as basketball or football.
Our youth play scheduled matches against other participants in YMCA programs all over the Midwest, even as far as Nebraska and Ohio. Our programs focus on breaking the “gamer” stereotype and getting kids out of their rooms by themselves and into the esports arena with kids with similar interests to work on teamwork as well as social skills on top of having fun playing games.
What is your favorite tech toy — for work or play — that you can’t live without?
Personally, I love my PlayStation console at home. I use it almost every day either for gaming, watching movies and TV shows, or talking to my friends that live all over the state and staying connected with them. It was one of my favorite things to do during the pandemic to stay connected.
What is one important skill that you think everyone should have?
One of the most important skills that I think everyone should have is how to work on a team. This skill is not only applicable to sports but in school, working on group projects and eventually, in the workforce. When youth feel like they are on a team, it can also help build confidence, social skills and relationships.
Providing youth who are not interested in traditional sports is just one of many highlights of our esports program at the Y. Seeing the program start with kids who may be more shy and timid and watching their relationships grow as the season moves along is an exciting and rewarding part of the program.