The National Federation of State High School Associations and esports startup PlayVS have partnered to help the association's 19,000 member schools establish high school-level esports programs, the two parties announced Thursday.
The NFHS will work with member associations to begin a rollout of PlayVS-operated esports tournaments beginning in October. Interested school districts will be required to pay a monthly membership fee of $16 and provide both computer systems and internet infrastructure required to participate in the event. NFHS CEO Mark Koski said he anticipates 18 to 20 states will participate in the inaugural 2018-19 season.
"There are states that are 'show me' states that will want to see something happen over the next year or two," Koski said, "and as things are successful, the goal will be to have all 51 in the long run."
The PlayVS competitions will run in two separate seasons throughout each school year. The first will begin in October and run through January, with the second taking place in February through May. These individual tournaments will feed into a playoff bracket that leads to a state championship.
PlayVS will also run summer tournaments for students outside of school, but these will not contribute to their state championship race.
Game titles for the competitions have yet to be selected, but PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell said the company will take its players' ages into account.
"We focus less on game and more on genre," Parnell said. "First off, we're doing no shooting games: no third-person, not first-person shooting, no battle royale, as much as that sucks, because the contents of the games are not friendly in a high school environment. We're sensitive to all of the issues around violence in schools, and we do not want to promote that for the foreseeable future.
"We are very much focused on multiplayer online battle arenas, fighting and sports. We think those genres work, and there will be other genres we expand to as new genres grow within esports. Our entire system is designed to be plug-and-play, so as new games come out, we can plug that game in."
The league might act as a feeder program as well. Around 65 U.S. colleges have expanded to offer scholarship-sponsored esports programs, according to previous ESPN reporting. Additionally, game developers such as Riot Games, Blizzard Entertainment and others have hosted their own collegiate esports competitions in League of Legends, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and other game titles.
PlayVS was founded in July by Parnell with backing from investment group Science. Prior to investing in Parnell's company, Science helped fund a number of successful startups such as Dollar Shave Club, Rover, Medium and MeUndies.
"PlayVS is creating the first esports league for high schools, which brings a new and exciting opportunity for schools to keep kids engaged and put them on the path to success," Science CEO Mike Jones said in a statement. "Often, kids who aren't interested in traditional sports or arts don't have a place they belong in school. PlayVS will completely change that experience, and its partnership with NFHS brings immediate scale to what they do. We're thrilled to be working closely with their team and can't wait for the league to launch this fall."